Cabin Fever – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Source: Excerpts from Mayo Clinic Article


Definition of SAD

Like many people, you may develop cabin fever during the winter months. Or you may find yourself eating more or sleeping more when the temperature drops and darkness falls earlier. While those are common and normal reactions to the changing seasons, people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) experience a much more serious reaction when summer shifts to fall and on to winter.

With seasonal affective disorder, fall’s short days and long nights may trigger feelings of depression, lethargy, fatigue and other problems. Don’t brush this off as simply a case of the “winter blues” that you have to tough out on your own.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, and it can severely impair your daily life. That said, treatment — which may include light box therapy — can help you successfully manage seasonal affective disorder. You don’t have to dread the dawning of each fall or winter.


Seasonal affective disorder is a cyclic, seasonal condition. This means that signs and symptoms usually come back and go away at the same times every year. Usually, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the warmer, sunnier days of spring and summer. But some people have the opposite pattern, developing seasonal affective disorder with the onset of spring or summer. In either case, problems may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Fall and winter SAD (winter depression)
Symptoms of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder include:




Loss of energy

Social withdrawal


Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

Weight gain

Difficulty concentrating and processing information

Spring and summer SAD (summer depression)
Symptoms of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder include:





Weight loss

Poor appetite

Increased sex drive

Reverse SAD

In rare cases, people with seasonal affective disorder don’t have depression-like symptoms. Instead, they have symptoms of mania or hypomania, a less intense form of mania, during the summer. This is sometimes called reverse SAD.

Symptoms of reverse SAD include:

Persistently elevated mood

Increased social activity


Unbridled enthusiasm out of proportion to the situation


The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. It’s likely, as with many mental health conditions, that genetics, age and perhaps most importantly, your body’s natural chemical makeup all play a role in developing seasonal affective disorder.

Specifically, the culprits may include:

Your circadian rhythm. Some researchers suspect that the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt the circadian rhythm in certain people. The circadian rhythm is a physiological process that helps regulate your body’s internal clock — letting you know when to sleep or wake. Disruption of this natural body clock may cause depression.

Melatonin. Some researchers theorize that seasonal affective disorder may be tied to melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that, in turn, has been linked to depression. The body’s production of melatonin usually increases during the long nights of winter.

Serotonin. Still other research suggests that a lack of serotonin, a natural brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, may play a role. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, perhaps leading to depression.

When to seek medical advice

Most people experience some days when they feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed — and certainly if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or find yourself turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.


Some people with seasonal affective disorder benefit from treatment with antidepressants or other psychiatric medications, especially if symptoms are severe. The Food and Drug Administration has approved bupropion extended release tablets (Wellbutrin XL) for the prevention of depressive episodes in people with a history of seasonal affective disorder. Other antidepressants commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) and venlafaxine (Effexor).

Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year. He or she may also recommend that you continue to take antidepressant medication beyond the time your symptoms normally go away. This strategy can help prevent worsening of symptoms.

Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to notice full benefits from an antidepressant. In addition, you may have to try several different medications before you find one that works well and has the fewest side effects. Like other medications, all antidepressants pose the risk of side effects and some have health precautions that you and your doctor must discuss.


There’s no known way to prevent the development of seasonal affective disorder. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time. Some people find it helpful to start treatment before symptoms would normally start in the fall or winter, and then continue treatment past the time symptoms would normally go away. If you can get control of your symptoms before they begin, you may be able to head off serious changes in mood, appetite and behavior that can disrupt your daily life.


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