Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that you experience during particular seasons or times of year. Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your everyday life.

SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter.

Some people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter.

It’s normal to be impacted by the weather and seasonal changes, as well as having periods of the year when you feel more or less at ease. For instance, you might notice that your energy or mood decreases when it gets warmer or colder, or you might observe adjustments in your eating or sleeping schedule.

However, if your emotions are getting in the way of your everyday life, you may have depression. Doctors may refer to this as “seasonal depression” or “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) if they recur at the same time of year.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping too much, or difficulty waking up (common with SAD in winter)
  • sleeping too little, or waking up a lot (common with SAD in summer)
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decreased sex drive

What causes SAD?

Although the precise cause of SAD is unknown, fewer hours of sunlight during the shorter months and winter days are frequently mentioned as a contributing factor.

The main theory is that the hypothalamus, a region of the brain, may become dysfunctional due to a lack of sunshine which in turn may effect the;

  • production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that induces sleep, and individuals with SAD may have higher-than-normal levels of it produced by their bodies
  • production of serotonin – a hormone called serotonin regulates mood, food, and sleep. Low serotonin levels are associated with depressive symptoms and can be brought on by a lack of sunshine
  • body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – as your body utilises sunshine to regulate many vital processes, including when you wake up, reduced light levels in the winter can throw off your body’s clock and cause symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

Self-help tips to help you cope with SAD

You can try some self-care techniques to manage the symptoms of SAD. These ideas can help you take care of yourself during the winter months even if you do not experience SAD. Here are six quick ideas to get you going;

  1. Get outside during daylight

Make the most of your daylight hours by going outside whenever you can. Your body will still receive the necessary amount of light, even on cloudy days. Therefore, wrap up and venture outside, whether it’s the first thing you do when you wake up or something you squeeze into your lunch break.

  1. Look after your physical health

  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can be difficult when you have SAD.
  • Do some regular exercise. Things like yoga, swimming or walking can be a big boost to your mood.
  • Get help with sleep problems. Sleeping too little or too much can be a problem.
  • Try to avoid drugs and alcohol. Although you may want to use drink or drugs to help you deal with tough emotions, doing so will only make you feel worse in the long term.
  1. Talk to someone

When you’re not feeling well, it could be difficult to reach out, but sharing your feelings with someone could be beneficial. You could contact a helpline such as;

  1. Keep a diary

Keeping a journal of your symptoms, including when they first appear and whether any specific situations or weather patterns tend to cause them, may be helpful. This might assist you in identifying any patterns.

When to see a GP

If you’re having trouble coping and you believe you may have SAD, you should consider visiting your doctor.

The GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

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