Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, is a form of depression that comes and goes in a pattern with seasonal change. Over the course of the autumn/winter period, sufferers feel a change of mood, decreased energy or motivation, may sleep longer or lose focus.
Over a third of those aged 16 years+ suspect they may have SAD, suffering from low moods in autumn and winter and Londoners are significantly likelier than those anywhere else in the UK to have been diagnosed with SAD (over 11% of people in London).
Dr Sarah Perkins, a Clinical Psychologist specialising in anxiety and mood disorders at Schoen Clinic Chelsea, explains: “The symptoms of SAD usually peak in the months of January and February. The main cause noted is the lack of sunlight which could prevent a part of the brain, the hypothalamus, from functioning properly which consequently affects a number of issues, such as:
- The production of melatonin – a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. Sufferers of SAD may produce higher levels.
- The Production of serotonin – the hormone that affects your mood, appetite, and sleep; reduced serotonin is linked to feelings of depression.
- The body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various functions such as when you wake up. Lower light levels can disrupt your body clock leading to SAD symptoms.
For some, SAD symptoms can come on during summer months and feel lighter during the wintertime, however that’s quite rare”.
The most common symptoms of SAD include:
- Persistent low mood
- Excessive sleep or sleeping longer than normal
- Decreased ability to focus or concentrate
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed
- Irritability and anxiety
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Fatigue, or low energy level
- Decreased sex drive
- Increased appetite, especially for sugary foods and carbohydrates
- Physical issues, such as headaches
Dr Perkins continues: “For many people, SAD can cause significant disruption to their work, home-life and relationships. Regular exercise and getting natural light can alleviate or lessen the symptoms. An early morning walk is highly recommended.”
Ways to help if suffering with SAD;
- Take in as much natural light as possible, go for a walk or try to wrap up and have your drinks out in the open.
- Exercise can help boost your mood naturally. If you do not have the energy to overcome your SAD inertia. Try and co-ordinate exercise or a class workout with a friend and give them permission to be forceful in their encouragement insisting you accompany them to do exercise.
- Dawn simulators or alarm clocks that mimic the sunrise by producing light that gradually increases in intensity, were as effective as light therapy for people with mild SAD, according to a study published in July 2015 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
- Consider whether it would be helpful to talk to a mental health professional or carefully select people in your life to talk to when you are feeling low.
- Taking a course of antidepressants from autumn until spring is an option to support the relief of symptoms such as depression.
- Working to make sure you have social events planned so that any depression doesn’t leave you totally isolated and alone with your thoughts.
- Spend time with a pet. Studies have shown that pets can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety and even decrease high blood pressure.
- Avoid isolating yourself. Keep in contact with others as this will be vital for your wellbeing. Even if you are reading a book, it is beneficial to do this in the same room as someone else
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