Seasonal Affective Disorder Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors

A woman suffering from SAD

Depression is one of the most challenging and persistent issues anybody can face. This disorder can take on many shapes and forms, which can lead to it affecting people in distinct and various ways. One of the many masks that depression often wears is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common diagnosis in people who only get depressed during specific seasons.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common form of depression that often follows a seasonal pattern. This blueprint means that people with SAD start feeling down during the same phase of each year. In most cases, these waves of depression tend to begin just as the last autumn leaves fall off and continue until spring, but SAD can also start at any time of the year.

During this period of depression, you will likely feel a shift in your mood, a loss of interest, and a tremendous flow of anxiety. If you have noticed that you begin to feel these symptoms around the same time each year, you should seek help as soon as possible. SAD is a serious condition that can affect your day-to-day life and stop you from achieving your goals if you leave it untreated.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Here are some of the most common Seasonal Affective Disorder causes and symptoms:

A Change in Your Biological Clock

Our biological clock (circadian rhythm) is one of the most crucial patterns that guide our lives. This rhythm is critical for telling us when to wake up, the time to munch on some food, and when to get some shuteye. Unfortunately, this pattern has one core weakness. It generally guides itself on the level of light in the environment.

When your brain notices that the sun is out and beaming, it releases certain hormones, alters your metabolism to ensure you remain alert and awake and regulates your temperature. However, as winter days are often shorter and have less sunlight, it can be easy for your biological clock to feel a wave of disarray during this season, leading to you battling feelings of depression.

A Drop in the Level of Serotonin

Serotonin, also known as the calming chemical, is one of the most crucial neurotransmitters swimming through our brain. This hormone plays a heavy role in regulating our mood levels, digestion, and sleep. In essence, the less of this chemical we have, the worse we feel.

During seasons like winter, our serotonin levels tend to drop due to the reduced levels of sunlight. This reduction in serotonin often results in a mood collapse that causes us to feel more depressed.

A girl suffering from Seasonal affective disorder therapy

A Disruption in the Balance of Melatonin

Melatonin plays a crucial role in our general sleep cycle. Once the sun begins to fall beyond the horizon and the skies turn dark, our brains kickstart the production of this hormone to help induce sleep. However, as the sun sets much earlier in the winter, your melatonin balance may become disrupted during this season.

What are the Risk Factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Some of the most common Seasonal Affective Disorder risk factors are:

Runs in the Family

In most cases, people with SAD often have parents or other family members with a history of SAD or depression.

You Live in a Place with Harsh Winters

The further you live from the equator, the more likely you will have to battle SAD. These increased odds are generally because of the shorter daylight hours in places far from the equator.

You are Already Battling Clinical Depression

Depression often comes in waves of highs and lows. If you are already dealing with clinical depression, you may begin to feel the symptoms more during seasons such as winter.

Can I Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder if I Have These Risk Factors?

Unfortunately, there is currently no way to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder once it has developed. However, it is always possible to reduce the effect of the symptoms by making crucial lifestyle changes that can help boost your mood and keep your energy levels stable throughout the season.

Here are some of the top ways you can treat SAD:

  1. Get as much sunlight as possible

  2. Speak to a therapist

  3. Consider light therapy

Do I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Here are some of the top symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder that you should be on the lookout for:

You Always Feel Down

If you find that you begin to feel down or sad at the start of a new season but are more energetic and happier after the season ends, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

You Find Yourself Hibernating

People with SAD often discover that they pull away from others once the wave of depression hits them. This withdrawal process may result in you no longer attending social events or participating in activities you once enjoyed.

A couple suffering from seasonal affective disorder

Other Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Some other common symptoms of SAD are:

  1. You feel a strong sense of despair or worthlessness. 

  2. You consistently feel tired. 

  3. You begin overeating at the start of the new season. 

I Have These Symptoms? What Next?

If you catch yourself struggling with any of these symptoms once a new season begins, but they slowly fade away as the season ends, then you likely have SAD. Once you notice that you may have this condition, you should speak to a therapist or doctor as quickly as possible. The symptoms of SAD tend to get worse over time when left untreated, making it more challenging to achieve your goals.