Seasonal Depression: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

December 5, 2023

An image of a woman sitting alone, showing seasonal depression symptoms

Seasonal depression, also known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), is a form of depression that typically occurs during fall or winter months. Researchers believe that the reduced daylight and shorter days during these seasons may trigger a chemical alteration in the brain, resulting in depressive symptoms. Treatment options for seasonal depression include light therapy and antidepressant medications. Read on and discover how to combat seasonal depression effectively.

What Is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression, otherwise known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), is a type of depression that emerges with the onset of a new season, often during the transition from summer to fall. Seasonal depression intensifies in late fall or early winter, gradually alleviating with the arrival of sunnier days in spring.

A milder version of seasonal depression is known as the winter blues. This is a normal response to the colder months, where feelings of slight melancholy may arise due to factors like confinement indoors and early darkness. Seasonal depression, by contrast, is a diagnosable form of depression that impacts emotions, cognitive processes, and many aspects of everyday functioning. Fortunately, effective treatments are available for those who want to know how to fight seasonal depression.

Signs of Seasonal Depression

Do I have seasonal depression” is one of the most common online search terms as the summer months subside. Recognizing the signs of seasonal depression can help inform early intervention and effective management. Some common indicators include:

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  • Persistent low mood: Seasonal depression frequently manifests as a prolonged and persistent low mood that persists for the majority of the day, nearly every day.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure: Individuals with SAD may experience a diminished interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed, leading to social withdrawal.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Disturbances in sleep, such as insomnia or oversleeping, are common signs of seasonal depression.
  • Fatigue and low energy: Feelings of fatigue, low energy levels, and a general sense of lethargy are frequent symptoms associated with SAD.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Seasonal depression can impair cognitive functions, making it challenging to concentrate, focus, or make decisions.
  • Changes in appetite: Appetite changes, including overeating or a significant decrease in food intake, may occur in individuals with SAD.
  • Weight changes: Fluctuations in weight, either gain or loss, can be indicative of seasonal depression.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness: Persistent feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or excessive guilt are emotional signs often seen in those with seasonal depression.
  • Irritability: Increased irritability or agitation may be observed as part of the seasonal depression symptomatology.
  • Social isolation: SAD can lead to a withdrawal from social activities and relationships, contributing to a sense of isolation.

Seasonal Depression Symptoms

Seasonal depression symptoms encompass a range of emotional, cognitive, and physical manifestations, with the severity varying among individuals. Common symptoms include:

  • A pervasive sense of sadness or emptiness that lasts for an extended period.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable (anhedonia).
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
  • Significant alterations in appetite, often leading to weight gain or loss.
  • Persistent feelings of fatigue and low energy levels.
  • Impaired focus, decision-making, and cognitive abilities.
  • A sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, or excessive guilt.
  • Increased irritability and restlessness.
  • Avoidance of social interactions and a desire for isolation.
  • Various physical symptoms – headaches, body aches, and digestive issues

Understanding these signs and symptoms can empower individuals to seek timely professional help and initiate appropriate interventions for managing seasonal affective disorder.

An image of a person spending time alone, showing the nature of seasonal depression during the fall and winter months

How to Deal with Seasonal Depression

Learning how to help seasonal depression may involve a combination of lifestyle adjustments, self-care strategies, and professional interventions. Here are some practical steps to help you deal with seasonal depression effectively.

Light therapy

Exposure to bright artificial light, known as light therapy, can help regulate circadian rhythms and improve mood. Light boxes that mimic natural sunlight are commonly used for this purpose.

Maximize natural light

Spend time outdoors during daylight hours, especially in the morning. Open curtains and blinds to let natural light into your home or workspace.

Regular exercise

Engage in regular physical activity, as exercise has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression. Outdoor activities, such as walking or jogging, can offer additional exposure to natural light.

Balanced diet

Maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, and ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.

Mind-body techniques

Practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to promote relaxation and improve overall well-being.

Establish a routine

Establishing a consistent daily routine can provide structure and stability, helping to manage symptoms of seasonal depression.

Social connections

Maintain social connections and engage in activities with friends and loved ones. Social support is crucial for emotional well-being.

Professional counseling

Consider seeking counseling or psychotherapy. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) has shown efficacy in treating seasonal affective disorder by addressing negative thought patterns.

Vitamin D supplements

As sunlight exposure decreases in the winter months, some people may benefit from vitamin D supplements. Consult with a healthcare provider to determine if supplementation is necessary.

Plan enjoyable activities

Engage in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. Planning enjoyable events can help combat feelings of lethargy and low mood.

Monitor and track symptoms

Keep a journal to monitor your mood, energy levels, and activities. This can help identify patterns and provide insights into what strategies are most effective.

Be patient and kind to yourself

Coping with seasonal depression is a process, and progress may take time. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge the efforts you are making to manage your well-being.

If symptoms persist or worsen, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and treatment options. Seasonal depression is a treatable condition, and with the right support, individuals can effectively manage and overcome its challenges.


What causes seasonal depression?

Seasonal depression, also known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), is believed to be caused by a combination of factors, including changes in sunlight exposure, disruptions in circadian rhythms, and fluctuations in serotonin and melatonin levels.

Is seasonal depression real?

Yes, seasonal depression is a real and recognized mental health condition characterized by the onset of depressive symptoms during specific seasons, most commonly in the fall and winter when daylight hours are shorter.

When does seasonal depression start?

Seasonal depression typically starts in the late fall or early winter, with symptoms subsiding in the spring or summer. The reduced exposure to natural sunlight during the darker months is thought to play a significant role in triggering this condition.

Are depression and seasonal affective disorder the same thing?

No, depression and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are not the same thing. Depression (major depressive disorder) is a broad mental health condition, while seasonal affective disorder is a specific type of depression that presents seasonally, usually in the fall and winter months when there is less natural sunlight.

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Get Treatment for Seasonal Depression at Connections

If you feel that you would benefit from seasonal depression treatment, we treat all types of depression at Connections Mental Health.

Our treatment facility is welcoming and inclusive, and we only admit a small number of individuals at any one time. This allows you to receive the personalized care you need while still benefiting from the support of peers undergoing similar experiences with mental health.

Inpatient treatment is structured and immersive. You can access leading science-backed treatments and an assortment of holistic therapies to help you initiate whole-body healing and improve daily functioning, even when it’s cold and gloomy.

Call 844-413-0009 to learn how you can live unconstrained by seasonal depression.

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