SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes called ‘winter depression’ or ‘winter blues’ is a form of depression that is affected by our seasonal patterns and is more apparent during the winter months. Often beginning at the onset of autumn and improving or even disappearing in the spring and summer only to come back again the following autumn.
- Constantly feeling low and pessimistic, irritable, guilt and worthlessness
- Mood swings.
- Lack of interest and motivation in normal day to day activities and things you would normally enjoy
- Lethargic and loss of energy
- Disrupted sleep patterns, the need to sleep during the day and sleeping for longer than normal and difficulty in getting up in the morning.
- Food cravings for sweet foods, carbohydrates and over eating and resulting in weight gain
- Inability to cope.
- Withdrawing from friends and family. Not wanting to interact with others or go out.
- Difficulties in concentrating.
If you think you are suffering from SAD please see your doctor as treatment is available for you.
The exact cause isn’t really understood, however is thought to be linked to the exposure to natural light. This is harder to get as the amount of sunshine during the autumn and winter days is shorter and many people leave for work in the dark, work indoors all day and return home in the dark and therefore not actually getting any natural light exposure at all. Modern life has changed our habits both socially and work life balance, with less people working outside, more shift work, longer working hours, working in offices with little or no natural light and sometimes poor electric lighting. With the advent of T.V , computers and handheld entertainment devices we are less likely to find pastimes outside. This all has an effect upon the body’s ability to regulate its own body clock or circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm tells the body when to sleep, when to get up, when to eat and will help regulate many of our physiological processes. The body will get subtle cues from our environment (light and temperature) that will keep us on track, e.g. getting up when it’s light, going to bed when it’s dark, appetite levels etc.
As the seasons change so do the natural light levels. Each day the length of natural light changes and the body’s circadian rhythm needs to be reset to synchronize with each day and the day’s activities of sleeping and eating etc. If this ‘reset’ is not achieved then an imbalance can occur.
Countries that are situated in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere experience extreme seasonal changes and some vast changes in the sunlight hours between summer and winter seasons. The dark and gloomy weather experienced mixed with lifestyle both have an effect on the amount of natural light the body receives leaving people feeling tired and lethargic, the extended lack of sunshine can then lead the sufferer to develop more serious symptoms as described above.
SAD can be hereditary and some people are more prone then others.
What treatments include:
- Looking at your lifestyle, trying to get as much natural light exposure as possible, taking regular exercise (outside of course), trying to manage stress levels (please read my stress blog).
- Changing your seating arrangements so you are as close as possible to windows when inside.
- Try to make your home as light and airy as possible.
- Light Therapy. If getting into the natural light is difficult due to work commitments or living location then Light Therapy can help. Special light boxes replicates natural light helping to increase the light needed every day.
- CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy. This empowers you by talking to help manage problems and helping to change the way you think, behave and face your issues. By changing the way you approach certain situations and the way you react to them can help to make you feel better about the situation and other aspects of your life.
The NHS website has a very comprehensive descriptive list of treatments available.