Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be thrown casually into conversation as a reason for having a bad day in winter or used as a joke for when you don’t want to get out of bed, but in reality, it is a form of depression which must be taken seriously.
The condition can leave people feeling worthless, anxious and unsociable and affects up to three in 100 people in the UK at some point in their life, with most people starting to get symptoms for the first time in their 20s or 30s.
It falls in line with autumn and winter, which despite offering the excitement of events such as Halloween, Christmas and New Year, also bring long nights and cold weather. Though the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, the NHS notes it is often linked to reduced sunlight exposure experienced in autumn and winter.
Women are about four times more likely to have SAD than men, though people who struggle with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder are also more likely to experience it.
Internet users in the UK began to seek information about SAD even before the clocks changed on October 31, with data analysts from health and wellbeing site StressNoMore reporting more than 22,000 Google searches for SAD in October, an increase of more than five times from 4,400 in August.
The long nights continued until December 21, and though the shortest day is now behind us, we still have plenty of dark mornings and long evenings ahead of us. With that in mind, Health and Wellbeing expert Stephanie Taylor has explained the symptoms that may be indicators of SAD, and the steps you can take to overcome the depression which accompanies it.
Speaking to UNILAD, Taylor explained people experiencing SAD may ‘notice a persistent shift in your mood’, noting ‘the symptoms associated with SAD are similar to those of depression but are experienced at specific times during the year.’
‘There are a wide range of associated symptoms, including a persistent low mood, feeling irritable or tearful. You may also experience a loss of pleasure or interest in your hobbies, experience low self-esteem and a reduced sex drive,’ she continued.
Other symptoms of SAD which are particularly prevalent during winter include being less active than usual, overeating – particularly carbohydrates – feeling lethargic and sleeping for longer than usual.
I’m sure we’ve all noticed that beds seem to feel much more comfortable on cold winter mornings, and Taylor has explained these sluggish starts may be due to the extra melatonin produced by our bodies during the dark, extended nights.
A lack of light in the morning means the production of melatonin comes to a stop more slowly, so Taylor has recommended trying to allow your body to adjust by waking up one minute earlier each day, or investing in a wake-up light which can help trigger the chemical change in the brain responsible for lifting your mood.
When it comes to looking after our bodies and minds, Taylor recommended eating complex carbohydrates such as oats and whole-wheats, or foods containing tryptophan and Omega-3 such as pineapple, seeds or fish, as these offer a serotonin boost and can create feelings of well-being and happiness.
She advised anyone who may be experiencing SAD to try and take on regular exercise for at least half an hour per day to release ‘feel-good endorphins’, and limiting stress levels where possible by taking regular breaks, practising relaxation techniques or treating yourself to a pamper day.
Above all, Taylor said, take time to ‘listen to and express your emotions’, whether through journaling, talking to a trusted loved one or speaking with a mental health professional.
As with any significant changes to your mental health, it is important to recognise these symptoms and take the relevant steps to help yourself.
By making small lifestyle changes such as setting yourself a morning routine during the darker months and keeping on track of your diet and exercise, you can find ways to improve and rid yourself of typical SAD symptoms.
The wellbeing expert stressed it’s ‘perfectly normal to have some down days’, but recommended seeking help from a doctor ‘if you feel down for days at a time.’
Taylor noted that SAD can be difficult to diagnose ‘because the symptoms are so similar to other depressive disorders’, though it is possible to confirm a diagnosis ‘if you begin to experience these symptoms at a specific time of the year and the symptoms don’t persist throughout the year.’
Having an official diagnosis of SAD can help ensure you get the necessary and correct treatment, and help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by the symptoms of the disorder, which could lead to the development of ‘normal depressive symptoms.’
No one feels in a good mood all the time, but if you find that the stereotypically joyous Christmas season is proving more of a struggle every day, assess your symptoms and get in touch with a professional who can help.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone
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