Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/23/2022
Fall, winter and everything in between: the time of the year when searches for seasonal depression symptoms and weighted blankets spike. Your circadian rhythm is off-beat. Your internal clock is slow.
Maybe it’s the dreariness of the weather or the relative increase in time spent indoors, but plenty of people seem to recognize that they may be experiencing seasonal depression when the typical symptoms of depression hit at the same time as a blizzard. You see less sun, have fewer social activities and go outside less, you’re going to feel lonely and isolated.
While the obvious melancholy of the midwinter doldrums isn’t too hard to spot, there are some signs of seasonal depression that might be a little less obvious to the amateur mental health manager.
Whether you’re seeing some depressive symptoms in a friend, family member, roommate or yourself, spotting seasonal depression early is a good thing. So, seeing less obvious signs of major depression and other types of depression early is only better for our mental health
We know why you’re here: symptoms. But before we go on to the advanced stuff, let’s jump straight into things and start with a refresher, just to make sure you understand how seasonal depression symptoms manifest.
Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder with a lot of symptoms, and they cover a lot of physical and mental spaces. Summer depression, winter depression: these are both seasonal types of depression aptly abbreviated to SAD (because of course it is).
Feelings of depression aren't very specific, so let’s cover some of the more common and well known symptoms. A person experiencing seasonal depression might notice:
A person with seasonal depression might have insomnia or hibernation behaviors, or they might oversleep.
Anxiety might be a result of seasonal depression, though you should talk to a healthcare professional to confirm there’s a relationship.
Agitation and violent episodes as well as social withdrawal can all be the result of seasonal depression.
Depressed mood can be an obvious signs in other forms of depression, but feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness might appear with seasonal depression.
People with seasonal affective disorder may experience restlessness, a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed and even cognitive decline associated with depression.
A person with seasonal affective disorder may have low energy, overeat and experience weight gain or weight loss due to poor appetite.
Thoughts of death or suicide and even acts beyond suicidal ideation can result from seasonal affective disorder.
If you’ve experienced one or more of these, you may be in the throes of depression (and, potentially, a seasonal variety) already — at which point, it may be time to speak to a mental health professional.
While the above symptoms of depression may be fairly well known, there are other, lesser-known symptoms that you should know. And then there are some you might not suspect are signs of depression at all.
If you feel like you nap more, nest more and generally spend more time in pajamas, in your bedroom or on your couch, you’re not alone — and you may be experiencing SAD.
Hibernation-like behaviors are common in SAD patients who often nap, experience low energy levels and feel generally sluggish while they wait for spring to come.
People with SAD symptoms may crave more carbohydrates. We could guess that this might be some evolutionary desire to find more fruits and vegetables (or pizza!) in a season when they’re less available, but that’s not very scientific — even if you’re reading this on your couch with one hand in a bag of potato chips.
Summer depression: somehow a real thing. Most people think that SAD can only affect people in the colder, less sunny months of the year, but seasonal affective disorder can actually affect different people during all seasonal changes — including summer.
In warmer weather, you may also experience more chaotic symptoms, including violent outbursts, restlessness and insomnia.
Treating seasonal depression is not different from treating normal depression, insofar as it has three main pillars. Those pillars are therapy, medication and lifestyle improvements.
Therapy for seasonal depression won’t change drastically from normal therapy for depression.
Generally, it’ll aim to help you focus on thinking positive through the darker months, and using techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy to overcome a negative seasonal pattern.
With medication, there won’t be many other changes from normal depressive disorder treatments.
Medications for depression like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a type of antidepressant medication that can affect brain chemistry in order to hopefully improve your mood. Your brain’s production of serotonin is important because neurotransmitters appear to contribute to regulating your mood.
Lifestyle therapy, on the other hand, may be significantly different when treating seasonal depression. It may first employ tools like light therapy, which help you replace the missing sunlight through convenient exposure through a sunlight lamp or other tool.
These light boxes are very effective at exposing people to bright light, and have been employed since the 1980s to help people with SAD.
They can help with your levels of vitamin D, when the reduced natural vitamin D you get from everyday activities in natural sunlight is greatly reduced.
Other lifestyle changes — leaning on your social support, taking a short trip to somewhere warmer, supplements to address vitamin D deficiency, regular exercise — might be effective for your needs given availability, convenience, and budget.
But before you go jetting off to the tropics for six months on a credit card, you might save yourself time, money and effort by starting your SAD treatment smart — and with help from a professional.
When it’s the hundredth dreary day of the winter and your January blues are the only color in your life, you know you may be at a higher risk of depression. But even if the sky is blue and the birds are chirping, your mental health may not reflect the world around you.
That’s when it’s time to get help.
Talking to a healthcare professional is a crucial next and first step in getting your mental health under control, and it can make a significant impact on your outcome.
Whether you’re starting this journey in the summer or winter, we offer online therapy resources. Hers’ platform offers accessible mental health professionals from the comfort of your own warm/cold home.
That help is available 365 days a year, so you can fight seasonal depression no matter what the forecast looks like.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder.