8 Silent Signs You Could Have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

A 2016 study from Auburn University cast doubt on whether cooler temperatures bring on bluer moods, but until the science settles, be on the lookout for these symptoms of seasonal sadness.

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You’re not getting good Zz’s


Nights are longer in winter, so sleep patterns can shift naturally, but chronic oversleeping or difficulty waking in the morning may be signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to the Center of Counseling and Psychological Services at Drew University in New Jersey. (Related: Check out these 19 things you should do all day long for better sleep tonight.)

You’re a zombie at work


Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago found in a 2013 study that employees are more productive and enjoy greater vitality when exposed to natural light. If you’re commuting to and from the office in the dark and don’t have the luxury of sitting near a big sunny window while you work, the lack of daylight exposure can zap your sleep at night and leave you less functional during the day. It can also leave you feeling irritable and make it harder to concentrate, according to research from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Follow these tips today to be WAY more productive at work in any season.

You’re dragging yourself around


Having less energy can be a symptom of many conditions, but during the winter months it’s often a symptom of SAD. “You might notice decreased energy, feeling moody, and having less interest in things you used to enjoy,” says Ken Yeager, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “If your symptoms occur consistently at the same time of the year, you may want to consider getting assessed for seasonal affective disorder.” In the meantime, try these 25 natural energy boosters that just might change your life.

You’re all about the pizza and pasta


When you’re tired, your body naturally cranks up cravings for carbohydrates, which are its preferred energy source. Unfortunately, since we also tend to be less active in winter, the combination can pack on the pounds. Instead of embracing carbohydrates, build meals around foods rich in omega-3 fats that naturally rev up serotonin (try salmon, sardines, and walnuts) and tryptophan, a building block for serotonin (try turkey, eggs and spinach). Put vitamin D on the menu, too, using these vitamin D-rich foods.

You’ve dropped off the party circuit

iStock/Balazs Kovacs

If it’s a challenge to get out of bed and you feel like you’re running on fumes, you’re less likely to book up your social calendar. “In turn, any depression worsens as a result of isolation,” says Mary Beth Somich, MA, EdM, LPCA, a licensed professional counseling associate in a private counseling practice in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Poor weather conditions only offer more incentive to stay home. “Those prone to SAD are more sensitive to bad weather affecting their mood and motivation, so it strongly affects their willingness to leave home, socialize, and reduce the isolation that contributes to their depressive symptoms.” Check out the incredible benefits of being social year-round.

You’re a jangle of nerves


Anxiety alone doesn’t always indicate SAD, but as a symptom of SAD, anxiety symptoms can be worse during the harsher weather months. “For instance, if you associate snow and ice with probability of a motor vehicle accident, you’re more likely to stay indoors, which can then worsen the depression you feel in association with the seasonal onset,” says Somich.

You feel blah

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Decreased sunlight is known to alter brain chemistry. “The shorter days in winter can cause your brain’s serotonin levels to drop, which can provoke feelings of depression,” says Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S, a psychotherapist based in Austin, Texas. The changing seasons can also tinker with your body’s melatonin levels, lowering your mood.

What can help SAD?


Light therapy or phototherapy, where you sit in front of a light box that emits a bright light that mimics sunlight, are considered first line treatments for fall-onset SAD. For some sufferers of SAD, adds Dr. Yeager, just getting outside for 15 to 30 minutes a day, even on cloudy days, can take the edge off symptoms. If they’re severe however, or if they persist, your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant. “It’s important to work with your physician to determine the appropriate treatment for you,” Dr. Yeager says, “keeping in mind that it may take several weeks to attain full benefits from antidepressant medications.” If you have seasonal affective disorder or just feel a little bluer in winter, these simple lifestyle tricks can help lift your spirits.

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