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Everything You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Discover how shorter days and longer nights could be causing some of us to feel irritable, anxious or even depressed.  

It’s normal for some of us to feel a little low after the festive period. We find ourselves settling back into our usual routines and a seemingly long, dark January looms ahead of us.

But you might have been feeling these winter blues long before the post-Christmas period.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression affects 1 in 3 of us and is typically experienced during the winter months when there’s significantly less hours of sunlight each day.

The weather has more of an effect on us than we might think. It in fact dictates much of our lives, from what we wear to what we eat and where we go, so it’s no surprise it can impact our mental health too.

There’s a strong link between the weather and wellbeing, with 57% of adults saying their overall mood is worse during the winter compared to the summer.

Low moods are a common symptom of SAD but unfortunately, there are many other mental physical symptoms which can occur. These can range from fatigue, irritability and anxiety to experiencing trouble with sleeping and even unexplained aches and pains.

The severity of these symptoms can vary for each individual. For many of us these begin during the  autumn when the clocks go back in October and get progressively worse as winter sets in.

According to the NHS, the exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood but research suggests that these symptoms are a direct correlation of reduced exposure to sunlight.

Lack of sunlight prevents a part of the brain, the hypothalamus, from working properly. This can affect our production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy, causing people with SAD to experience heightened levels of fatigue. Reduced exposure to sunlight can also lead to lower serotonin levels, a hormone commonly referred to as ‘the happy hormone’. Serotonin is something that affects our mood, appetite and sleep, and a lack of it can even lead to feelings of depression.

There is currently limited research into whether specific treatments can help with SAD. Therefore, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression.

If you think you could be suffering from SAD try the following methods but if your symptoms persist, please seek professional advice from your GP!

1. Talking Therapy 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a common way to treat depression and anxiety, two symptoms which occur when suffering from SAD. CBT is a form of talking therapy which can help you to manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. For an in depth introduction to CBT click here.

Don’t forget, simply opening up to a family members or close friends can be really beneficial in helping us manage and process thoughts and feelings. So, the next time you are feeling a little overwhelmed, grabbing a quick coffee or phoning up a friend could help lift those winter blues.

2. Light Therapy 

Research shows that light therapy can be beneficial at reducing depression in patients with SAD. One study found that patients who were exposed to white fluorescent light for 20 minutes experienced a significant and immediate reduction in feelings of depression.

The best way to conduct light therapy is to purchase a light therapy box or lamp. These emit bright light that mimics natural outdoor light, helping to boost serotonin and melatonin levels, reducing symptoms of SAD.

3. Lifestyle Measures 

Day to day, try and get as much natural sunlight as possible. This can be achieved by walking  or exercising outdoors if possible. Research has also shown that increasing our activity levels can significantly reduce feelings of depression as exercise causes our bodies to produce serotonin, the happy hormone!

Getting enough sleep and consuming a balanced diet can also reduce fatigue, a common symptom of SAD. Discover more ways you can boost your energy levels here. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder is something you could be suffering from without even realising it. Ensure you listen to your body and implement measures to help manage your symptoms but always seek professional help if you’re symptoms fail to subside!

For more ways to improve your mental health, discover these 5 self-care tips. Feel free to join Simone Thomas’ Wellness World on Facebook and become a part of a community which prides themselves on helping one another whilst discussing all things health and wellness.