One type of ADHD that affects the limbic system can cause depression-like symptoms and may exacerbate seasonal affective disorder. Learn more about SAD, limbic ADHD, and what to do if you’re suffering from one or both of these conditions.

What Is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during certain periods of the year. Most people who have SAD find that it coincides with colder weather, so it usually begins in late fall, persists through winter, and lets up as spring arrives. Some people have SAD during the warmer months of the year, but this is far less common.

Some of the symptoms of SAD include:

  • Sad mood or listlessness almost every day
  • Low energy and sluggishness
  • Oversleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrate-rich foods
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Suicidal thoughts

Studies have found that people with ADHD seem to have a higher risk of developing SAD compared to the general population. Light therapy may help alleviate SAD symptoms. Other treatment options include psychotherapy and medications.

What Is Limbic ADHD?

Limbic ADHD is a type of ADHD which has a significant effect on the limbic system. This is a series of complex structures in the brain which help to regulate motivation, emotions, behavior, and memory. It’s one of the seven types of ADHD proposed by psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen based on brain scans conducted at his clinics.

In people with limbic ADHD, the limbic system is overactive. This can trigger a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Hopelessness or apathy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Chronic low energy
  • Dysthymia (persistent mild depression)
  • Issues with sleep
  • Loss of interest and enjoyment in activities
  • Social isolation

Because the symptoms of limbic ADHD are so similar to those of depression, people with this type of ADHD are sometimes misdiagnosed. Along with lifestyle changes, a combination of stimulant and antidepressant medications may help to treat limbic ADHD.

Limbic ADHD and SAD: What’s the Connection?

People with limbic ADHD often experience the depression-like symptoms listed above. On top of that, they also have to deal with regular symptoms of ADHD, like inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. 

When the seasons change and the weather cools, individuals with limbic ADHD may find that their mood symptoms worsen. Those changes might not be as noticeable for someone who is fighting depression year-round, but it’s important to be aware of the increased risk for developing SAD. Specific treatment options, such as light therapy, may be useful for offering additional protection against symptoms of both SAD and limbic ADHD in the winter.

Tips for Managing Limbic ADHD and SAD

Limbic ADHD and SAD can be difficult to deal with, but there are a few strategies which may help to alleviate symptoms effectively. If you’re struggling with limbic ADHD and/or SAD, consider using the following tips to help manage your condition on a day-to-day basis.

Minimize stress

High stress levels can be a major trigger for symptoms of limbic ADHD. Working to minimize stress in your life can help to alleviate your symptoms. In addition to recognizing and avoiding your stress triggers, try using proven techniques for stress management, such as getting regular exercise and practicing mindfulness.

Avoid excessive drinking

The winter overlaps with many of the big holidays of the year, which means there may be increased opportunities for drinking. Unfortunately, alcohol can worsen anxiety and depression, so it’s best to limit your intake while you’re dealing with SAD.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Getting enough sleep is important for your mental health. Conditions like limbic ADHD and SAD make it harder to get the right amount of sleep, so it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene. Some of the strategies you can try include avoiding nighttime screen use, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and using a weighted blanket.

Try light therapy

If you experience SAD, try light therapy to mimic the sunlight that’s lacking during the winter months. In addition to relieving the symptoms of SAD, light therapy can also improve attention and mood and decrease impulsivity. You’ll need to purchase a special SAD light therapy lamp, but there are many reasonably priced models available. Before you choose a lamp, however, talk to your healthcare provider about light therapy — especially if you take medication for ADHD, anxiety, or depression.