As we head into the colder months, it's important we talk about S.A.D.
With the clocks turning back and mornings and evenings now getting darker, some of us can really suffer with the effects of reduced daylight hours. Sometimes, it’s more than just a case of having a bit of the winter blues. The colder weather can have a serious impact on your emotional well-being, also known as Seasonal Affective disorder.
Below, we break down everything you need to know about Seasonal Affective Disorder, from symptoms to treatments.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a particular type of depression which comes and goes depending on seasonal change. Symptoms usually appear in autumn and stay throughout winter, when daylight hours are at their shortest, and improves in spring and summer. Usually, the symptoms reoccur with the change of the season later in the year.
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause is unknown, but it is believed to be as a result of the reduced exposure to natural light over the winter months. According to the NHS, the primary theory is that a lack of sunlight can impact upon several of the body’s functions.
For example, the production of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone, may increase; The production of serotonin, which affects appetite, mood and sleep, may be lower, and; Your body clock may be disrupted as it relies on sunlight to time various functions.
Some people may also be more prone to S.A.D. for genetic reasons, as it seems to run in families in some instances.
What are Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms?
According to the NHS, symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include feeling irritable, guilty, worthless, lethargic and or uninterested in normal every day activities. A person may also have a persistent low mood, sleep too much and find it difficult to get up in the mornings, or gain weight.
Consultant psychologist Ingrid Collins of the London Medical Centre says: ‘The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD mirror those of depression, but the person also experiences confusion because of the lack of obvious relationship problems at home or at work.
‘They may loose their appetite and their powers of concentration, their sleep may be disrupted, their anxious thoughts turn to doom and gloom for no logical reason, and even the simplest tasks become a struggle, with motivation at rock bottom.
‘The immune system is less effective and therefore the person is more prone to illnesses.’
What Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment is available?
Ingrid says that recognising that you might be suffering from S.A.D. is the first major step towards recovery. There are a range of different treatment options available that will help you on your way to recovery.
Make a doctor’s appointment
Your first port of call should always be your GP, who will advise you on the best course of action if you think you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. They may recommend a course of antidepressants or talking therapies if they think they would be beneficial to you.
St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is a herbal supplement associated with alleviating low mood. If you are on any prescribed medication, you must speak to your GP before taking St John’s Wort, as it may interact with other medication. It can cause your skin to become very sensitive to light, so isn’t suitable if you are also using a light box.
‘The lack of sunlight is the major cause of SAD, and as the action of sunlight on our skin causes us to manufacture vitamin D, a very important biochemical’, says Ingrid.
Vitamin D has been linked to alleviating the symptoms of depression, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. Reduced sunlight in winter means the body’s levels of Vitamin D are inherently lower, therefore it’s important to make more of an effort to incorporate Vitamin D foods into your diet. Ingrid advises that you consult your local health food store for advice on the best supplements to take.
Light boxes are one of the most popular treatment options for people who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The lamps mimick natural daylight, and simply sitting in their glow for the recommended time per day (usually 45-90 minutes) can really help to alleviate the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Lumie are the original creators of the Bodyclock wake-up light, an alarm clock which gently wakes you with daylight (rather than a harsh ringtone), giving your body a nudge to adjust its hormone levels. They have loads of different options available.
‘Exercise always helps because not only does it mean that your body as a result produces lots of extra endorphins – the happiness neuropeptide – but also you become far healthier and in consequence much more appreciative of your body as it becomes more and more like the body you want it to be’ says Ingrid.
If you’re not the sporty type, don’t panic, going for a brisk walk is still a great way to encourage endorphin production and get some fresh air.
Ingrid says: ‘Understanding that you are suffering from SAD is the first major step towards recovery. One thing that always lifts your mood is doing some good deeds for others. We have a part of our brain that becomes more energised when we are feeling empathetic and compassionate, so doing something pleasant and constructively kind for someone else on a regular basis.
‘For example, volunteering at your local hospital, or at a nearby animal sanctuary, can make you feel much happier about yourself, and much less sorry for yourself as a result.’