Feeling SAD: Understanding Seasonal Sadness

Feeling SAD: Understanding Seasonal Sadness

Following what was a rejuvenating and thankfully busy summer for many, we now sit right on the cusp of the winter months. Some will be excited for the arrival of autumn colours, pumpkin spiced lattes, big coats and Santa Claus. But for others, the changing season will mark a major shift backwards in their mental health; in a biological experience often known as SAD.

What is SAD?

SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder - is a form of depression that many people experience when the seasons change. Also known as ‘winter depression’ the symptoms of SAD are commonly more prominent during the darker, colder autumn and winter months; but oppositely but not a commonly, some people may also feel SAD during the summer months, and better in the winter.

The pattern of SAD begins and finishes around the same time every year, and drains the body of energy and motivation, making you feel anxious, lonely, and down. It’s an issue that many people face, especially as the summer’s coming to an end, the sunshine is going back in the box, and it’s time to make a return to the usual 9 to 5.

What are the Symptoms of SAD?

As with any form of mental health, the symptoms of SAD are not tied to each other, and one may be felt more severely than another that may be more mild. If the arrival of a new season has got you feeling down, have a chat with your friends or family, because it’s often during our interactions and conversations with those around us that we learn the most about our emotions and mental health.

There are a few typical symptoms of SAD that you should look out for:


The kind of emotional low that SAD produces is one that typically lasts most of the day, every day. The experience of depression is each to their own, but it usually arrives in tandem with feelings of worthlessness, guilt and mild to severe sadness. The more extreme side of SAD-related depression can even result in self-harming, suicidal tendencies, and a wish to hurt yourself or others. Hence why depression at this level most certainly needs to be addressed.

Loss of Energy 

The loss of energy that comes with SAD can manifest in lots of different ways. It can be very much a physical loss of energy as much as a mental loss of energy. It’s common to feel constantly tired during this period, with normal, everyday tasks feeling literally impossible to carry out.

Our energy supplies are at the core of our functioning, so dips such as this can have a very noticeable impact. In a way, we all feel like our batteries are running dead from time to time, but when it lasts for weeks and months on end, SAD can actually become quite debilitating.

Problems with Sleep

Sleep is super, super important, and the delicate and important processes that happen when we rest are absolutely not to be messed with. Although sleep problems, such as insomnia, can be the result of other SAD-related symptoms like depression, it can also come about from the astronomical change in the weather and the seasons. In this instance, it’s likely that you won’t experience a lack of sleep, but an excess of it. 

Darkness is known to trigger the biological production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which makes us feel tired and sleepy. But if there’s too much darkness, like during the months of November and December for example, the saturation of melatonin will make you feel excessively tired; leading you to sleep for longer when you shouldn’t. 

Additionally however, this experience could be flipped if you feel SAD during the summer months, in which case you might be prone to sleep deprivation.


Closely interlinked with SAD-related depression, the feeling of hopelessness the disorder produces can be a dark and difficult hole to escape. Looking at it from a long-term perspective, hopelessness can cause our levels of motivation to dip, and our ambitions to slip.

Looking to the future with optimism becomes difficult, and SAD can have you questioning “what’s the point of it all?” Of course, this attitude can have a major impact on your end-goals, and has the ability to transform life very much for the worse. Hopelessness is a core pillar of the experience of SAD, and it’s important to vocalise your feelings and emotions to others so that you won’t have to face it alone.

Weight and Appetite Changes 

Perhaps somewhat oddly, seasonal changes can actually have a huge impact on your appetite and weight. And we’re not just talking about Christmas dinner, but extreme changes to your physique and attitude to food. Why this is is not fully understood, but it’s believed to have links with some of the other formidable symptoms of SAD. 

Often, you can experience either a complete or very much reduced loss of appetite, or have your appetite ramped up to unusual tendencies. Such extreme swings in appetite will naturally influence your BMI and weight level, and because the changes aren’t often sudden, spotting the signs of this symptom isn’t so easy.

What Causes SAD?

Unfortunately, the causes and catalysts of SAD aren’t fully understood, and it’s an experience that still requires a fair amount of research. But saying this, there are 3 main drivers that might possibly contribute to the onset of SAD:

Melatonin Levels 

Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces when our eyes perceive darkness, which is especially common during winter-onset SAD, when the nights are longer and the days are shorter. Shifts in melatonin levels can be experienced in both the brighter and darker months, and often results in changes to the experience of sleep.

Circadian Rhythm 

Also known as the biological clock of the body, a shift in the seasons will have a drastic impact on circadian rhythm. This is because it’s regulated by regular exposure to sunlight, so hence why changes to the amount of sunlight often result in SAD.

Serotonin Levels 

Also regulated by sunlight exposure is our serotonin levels, a form of neurotransmitter that helps us to feel happy and lifts the mood. That’s why so many people feel happier when the sun’s high in the sky, and also why many people feel SAD when it goes away.

What Can you do to Stop Feeling SAD?

Whether you’re feeling SAD in the winter or summer months, it’s really important to address your feelings and let them be known. Seeking help and undergoing treatment, even when the symptoms might be few and mild, is a really brave and equally as important step to make, but never feel like you have to keep anything to yourself.

When we experience the symptoms of SAD, it really helps us when we add variety to our day. Sometimes even just the most spontaneous of plans work well to warn off SAD. This is especially helpful when we’re feeling at ends with our motivation and happiness. Adding new to the old will cultivate a new lust for life; there’ll never be a dull enough moment to be feeling blue.

We hope that this has helped our readers in some small way to recognise and remedy the feeling of SAD. The experience of life is and always will be in the hands of the beholder, and seasonal sadness should never be a part of anyone’s yearly schedule.

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