The clocks have gone back and as well as signalling the onset of shorter days, it can also trigger what has affectionately been dubbed the ‘Winter Blues’ – or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
But what is SAD, how do I know I have it and what can be done to tackle it?
What is SAD?
SAD is often known as ‘Winter depression’ or the ‘Winter blues’ and this mainly due to most sufferers experiencing symptoms during the winter months, although there are some cases where SAD sufferers experience it all year.
Typically, symptoms begin in Autumn as the days begin to get shorter and increase to their most severe point during the Winter months – December to February, often improving as spring begins and fading completely during the Summer months. This can continue in a repetitive fashion year after year.
And, the reason seasonal change has a link to SAD is because one of the main factors behind this condition is thought to be linked to our exposure to natural sunlight.
What are the Symptoms?
As with most conditions, symptoms vary and not everyone will experience the same symptoms, or indeed all of them. However, they can include:
- A continuous low mood
- Feeling lethargic, with a lack of energy and desire to perform normal daily tasks
- Sleep problems – falling asleep during the day, but unable to sleep at night
- Anxiety, irritability, not wanting to interact with people
- Depression or feelings of despair, worthlessness or guilt
- Craving carbohydrates, sweet foods which can then lead to weight gain
- Loss of libido or interest in physical contact
For some these symptoms, can have a serious effect on their daily lives, leaving them unable to perform even the simplest of tasks.
What is the cause?
While the exact cause of SAD is still not fully understood, it is often linked to the reduction of exposure to sunlight which is why it is more prevalent in the Winter months.
The prominent theory is that the lack of sunlight during this period, may stop a part of the brain called hypothalamus working properly, and which in turn may affect the:
- production of melatonin– melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; In SAD sufferers, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
- production of serotonin – serotonin is the hormone that affects your appetite, mood, appetite and sleep patterns – therefore a lack of sunlight may lead to lower levels of serotonin, which has been linked to feelings of depression
- body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight as its internal clock, triggering time for various important functions, such as when you wake up. Therefore, lower light levels during the winter may disrupt this and lead to symptoms of SAD
In addition, there is some indication that genes also play a factor in making some people more vulnerable to the symptoms of SAD, as in some cases it has appeared to run in the family.
What can be done to combat SAD?
There are a range of treatments that those suffering with SAD can explore to reduce the symptoms, and help those with severe cases to regain some normality to their daily routines.
- lifestyle changes – including increasing the amount of natural sunlight you receive as possible, exercising regularly, eating a better diet and managing your stress levels;
- light therapy – where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight. There are many different versions available on the market.
- talking therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling
- medication – if your symptoms do not improve your GP or medical professional may suggest a course of medication, such as an anti-depressant.
If you feel like you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, and wish to discuss with us more detail the ways in which we could help, please get in contact today via email or by telephoning 020 8815 0979.