What is seasonal affective disorder and how do you treat it?

Summer may be over, but don't let seasonal affective disorder get in the way of your autumn and winter

Spelling Words On Sand To Express I Hate Winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder
(Image credit: Getty)

With the arrival of cooler months comes an onslaught of pumpkin spice and hygge vibes. Even though we typically like to embrace this time of year with all things cozy, sometimes it can be a challenge, thanks to seasonal affective disorder. 

Seasonal affective disorder, fittingly known as SAD, has the potential to upset our emotional wellbeing as the days get shorter, making the end of the year a bit more difficult to contend with. 

But there's no need to feel hopeless! Help is available for those who feel as though they need it. We'll break down everything you need to know about SAD so that you can get back on track and enjoy the fall and winter: oversized quilts, hot cocoa and all.



What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that is associated with a particular time of the year, specifically the fall and winter. It is also referred to as fall onset or winter depression and kicks in late autumn.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (opens in new tab), a chemical change in the brain likely due to less daylight is responsible for the shift in our emotions. It's believed that more women than men are affected by seasonal affective disorder. Typically, those aged 20 and up are at risk of experiencing it.

What are the signs of seasonal affective disorder?

Similar to signs of depression, SAD may cause a person to experience the following symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (opens in new tab) and Johns Hopkins Medicine: 

  • Oversleeping
  • Overeating 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety or irritability 
  • Loss of interest in activities 
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Trouble thinking clearly

What causes seasonal affective disorder?

Although scientists are still researching the specifics of SAD, it's believed that the lack of daylight is responsible for the emotional shift, as well as increased melatonin, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Our bodies produce more melatonin—a sleep-related hormone—when it is dark. 

Woman using light therapy for seasonal affective disorder

(Image credit: Getty)

How do you treat seasonal affective disorder?

Even if you're feeling just slightly off, it's always crucial to seek the help of a medical professional to properly diagnose your symptoms. For those who suffer from SAD, it's important to know that treating it might take time, but feeling like your normal self is totally within the realm of possibilities. 

To combat SAD, mental health experts might recommend antidepressants, psychotherapy, increased exposure to sunlight and vitamin D, or even light therapy. 

What is light therapy?

To make up for the light deficiency, this type of therapy requires a person to be exposed to special light for a certain amount. The National Institute of Mental Health believes starting the day with a light box (10,000 lux) for roughly 30 to 45 minutes has the potential to combat symptoms of SAD. It's best to do this in morning as you start your day, so why not incorporate it into your routine along with that cup of Joe?

(opens in new tab)

Amazon, Light Therapy Lamp, UV-Free ($24.99 (opens in new tab), £28.99 (opens in new tab)

A UV-free,10, 000 lux therapy light that includes three adjustable brightness levels, a four-timer function and a 90-degree rotation standing bracket. 

Danielle is a writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life, covering all-things news, lifestyle and entertainment. 


The heart of her time at Future has been devoted to My Imperfect Life, where she's been attuned to the cosmos and honed in on astrology coverage within the Life vertical. She's partial to writing pieces about the next big TV obsession—anyone else impatiently waiting for "Conversations with Friends"—and keeping you up to date on new trends like the latest must-have from Zara. 


Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, amNewYork and Newsday, among other outlets. 


When Danielle is not working, you can usually find her reading a new book, coffee at hand, or attempting a new recipe. (Recommendations always welcome!)