Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is normal for people to go through a biological shift as the seasons change. The change to internal body clocks, and our circadian rhythm, causes the body and the brain to be out of synchronicity with daily routines and schedules. Studies suggest the imbalances are greater in people living further away from the equator. This is due to less daylight and sunshine. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is linked with seasons. Although this type of depression can form in the summer months, SAD is more common in the winter months. The onset occurs in late fall or in early winter when there is reduced sunlight. The mood disorder can last for up to 40 percent of the year, however, it tends to lift when spring and summer arrive.

Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Understanding SAD

Seasonal affective disorder is not just the winter blues. According to the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is categorized as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. People with SAD describe the symptoms as incapacitating, as they impact daily functioning and are often overwhelming, in addition to causing mood swings. In the USA, around 5 percent of adults suffer from SAD. Though it affects both genders, women are more susceptible.


SAD can trouble all of us. However, seasonal affective disorder is most prevalent in the 18 to 30 age group. The symptoms are similar to those associated with more common forms of depression. Some symptoms of SAD are obvious, while others are more subtle. Symptoms can be mild or severe and some will give rise to others. There are usually several symptoms at the same time. Here are some of the more common symptoms of SAD:

Disinterest or displeasure

Activities that are usually pleasurable and enjoyable no longer are that way. They are now uninteresting and we don’t feel like doing them anymore. We can’t be bothered.

Appetite Change

SAD can cause an increase in appetite as a result of a craving for more carbohydrates. In turn, this can lead to weight gain. However, in some cases, loss of appetite and weight loss can occur.

Changing sleeping patterns

SAD can lead to sleeping more, creating a cycle of oversleeping and overtiredness.

Lethargy can be caused by oversleeping and manifests in a loss of energy and fatigue. Again, we don’t feel like doing anything and feel like we don’t have the strength to do even the most basic tasks.

Incoherence and indecision

SAD patients struggle to think clearly and express themselves or communicate coherently. As their thought processes stutter, they struggle to continue with their train of thought and can’t concentrate long enough to find their words. This gives rise to indecision and results in self-defense comments such as “whatever” and “I don’t care.”

Restlessness and discontent

Malcontent and restlessness can trigger purposeless or aimless physical activity such as fidgeting. Movement and speech can be slow and appear exaggerated.


There is a difference between wanting to be left alone and wanting to be away from other people. They seem to be the same, however, they aren’t. Wanting to be alone implies time to regroup, re-energize and relax or calm down. Isolating to be away from other people may mean that there is no re-energizing or relaxing. Patients who are feeling depressed can still feel restless and malcontent while isolating, dwelling on negative feelings.

Feeling negative

A depressed mood and feeling sad without being able to explain why is common. More dangerous and debilitating are feelings of worthlessness and guilt. For many people, when we don’t understand what is happening with us, our default is to blame ourselves for being the cause of often imaginary problems and problematic situations.

Feeling Suicidal

Building on the negative feelings caused by not understanding ourselves, serving no purpose and feeling worthless, the next seemingly “logical” step is suicide. This goes hand in hand with wanting to isolate and be away from people whom we perceive we add no benefit, and rather that we are a burden on all. If you have thoughts of committing suicide, talk with a loved one immediately, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) ASAP.


Discuss any concerns with your health care provider. The happy news is you can treat SAD. You’re not alone!

Additional Reading: SAD Treatment: Light Therapy

Blue Sky Counseling Omaha – Mental Health Counseling

I, Carly Spring, M.S., LIMHP, LADC, CPC, offer my specialized expertise to assist in the healing process to anyone who may be experiencing and suffering from a vast spectrum of mental health issues. Such mental health issues include behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, trauma, addiction issues, and life transitions. I believe strongly in applying a holistic perspective addressing your whole person not just the bits and pieces of you. Contact us with any questions or to discuss mental health services in Omaha today.