What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition where low mood is associated with the winter months of the year. People with the condition usually experience a ‘normal’ mood during spring and summer. A lot of people feel slightly lower in mood during cold weather, however, SAD is more than the ‘winter blues’, symptoms include:
- Low mood
- Loss of pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable
- Feeling irritable
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness or despair
- Lack of energy or fatigue
- Changes to sleeping patterns
- Changes to eating patterns, for example, craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
Who gets Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Although the exact causes of SAD are unknown it is thought that it is related to the lack of sunlight available during winter months. It is often most pronounced in January and February (NHS, 2015). As this time of year, March, begins people may start to feel better and only now realise that their mood is linked to the winter months. The relationship between mood and winter may be due to the production of melatonin or the mismatch between the number of daylight hours and the bodies natural body-clock. SAD may also be affected by social factors as during winter people are more likely to stay indoors and there can be fewer options to socialise with friends and family. SAD is not a ‘lighter’ version of clinical depression, just one that waxes and wanes with the seasons. SAD is thought to be more prevalent in young women than in men. People who live far from the equator are more likely to experience SAD than those who experience fewer variations in seasons close to the equator. SAD and wider depression conditions can also appear more frequently within the same family.
What to do if you are struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you are struggling with the winter months and feel as though your mood increases when spring returns, do not wait until winter to seek help. Therapists at Morency can help support you throughout the summer to create a plan for the winter months. Depending on your circumstances they may help you to:
- Consider changes to your lifestyle to increase your exposure to winter light including exercising outdoors and socialising with friends and family outdoors
- Consider the influences on your low mood such as work-related or relationship-related stressors and develop strategies to reduce or cope with these
- Consider the possible benefits of using a light box to increase exposure to light – however, avoid buying a box without speaking to a professional first
- Develop a healthy sleep routine to minimise the impact of low mood (see the upcoming blog on sleep hygiene)
- Develop all round healthy lifestyle strategies including focusing on eating patterns and exercise patterns
NHS (2015). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/