Is it a Winter Funk or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Com­mon symp­toms of SAD and lifestyle tips that can help.

Sea­son­al affec­tive dis­or­der (SAD) is a sub­type of major depres­sive dis­or­der and most peo­ple with this dis­or­der notice symp­toms start­ing in fall and con­tin­u­ing into win­ter. These symp­toms will start and stop around the same time each year.

While the exact cause of SAD is not known, the fol­low­ing fac­tors are con­sid­ered to con­tribute to the onset of this disorder:

  • Cir­ca­di­an Rhythm and Short­er Days — With less sun­light in the fall and win­ter, your cir­ca­di­an rhythm and sleep cycles may change lead­ing to feel­ing depressed.
  • Hor­mones — The hor­mones mela­tonin and sero­tonin help reg­u­late impor­tant func­tions in your body like appetite, mood and sleep. Each hor­mone per­forms sep­a­rate jobs in your body — sero­tonin for hap­pi­ness and mela­tonin for sleep and relax­ation. The change in sun­light and dis­rup­tion of your cir­ca­di­an rhythm can affect your hor­mone lev­els, lead­ing to feel­ings of depres­sion and dis­rupt­ed or inef­fi­cient sleep.

Through­out the year, it is com­plete­ly nor­mal to have days when you feel off or down. Below are symp­toms of SAD to be aware of dur­ing each season.

Fall and Win­ter SAD SymptomsSpring and Sum­mer SAD Symptoms
  • Changes in your appetite, may crave foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Irri­tabil­i­ty
  • Lead­en” feel­ing in your arms and legs
  • Extreme sen­si­tiv­i­ty to rejection
  • Over­sleep­ing
  • Depres­sion
  • Insom­nia
  • Weight loss
  • Feel­ings of anx­i­ety or agitation
  • Poor appetite

Espe­cial­ly dur­ing the win­ter months, there are a few lifestyle enhance­ments that can be made to reduce symp­toms of SAD, including:

Phys­i­cal Exer­cise — 30 to 60 min­utes of exer­cise per day can bright­en your mood and improve your over­all health and well-being.

Get Out­side — Sero­tonin cre­ation can be trig­gered with just 20 min­utes of sun­light expo­sure each day result­ing in a more pos­i­tive attitude.

If you notice a con­sis­tent change in your atti­tude, moti­va­tion, sleep pat­terns, you rely on sub­stances for relax­ation, have con­sis­tent feel­ings of hope­less­ness or con­tem­plate sui­cide, it is time to see your physi­cian. Your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian can work with you on a treat­ment plan that works best for you.