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, 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 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?

Amazon, Light Therapy Lamp, UV-Free ($24.99, £28.99) 

Amazon, Light Therapy Lamp, UV-Free ($24.99, £28.99

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 Valente
Digital News Writer

Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few. 

When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.