Shining a light on SAD

Shining a light on SAD

Sarah McLoughlin
Posted by Sarah McLoughlin

Date: Friday, 10 November 2017. -  
Blog, First Aid

Now that the clocks have gone back, we are experiencing much shorter days. During the winter months, it can get dark as early as 4pm.

For the most part, it is often dark when we leave in the morning and also when we get home in the evenings. This can result in some people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can be described as feelings of depression during the colder, winter months.

Symptoms of SAD

SAD is often referred to as 'winter depression' due to the seasonal pattern that the symptoms occur in, which typically coincides with the clocks going back in Autumn. Symptoms usually worsen in December, January and February and will generally improve as spring approaches. For some people, SAD can return on an annual basis in this repetitive pattern.

People who experience SAD will feel depressed during the autumn and winter months. Signs of depression include:

  • A persistent low mood
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • Less sociable
  • Feeling stressed or anxious
  • Tearfulness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Weight gain
  • Sleeping for longer than normal

If you experience any of the above symptoms and you feel that they are making everyday activities increasingly difficult, you should consider speaking to your GP and they will advise you on how you can overcome these feelings.

Boost your mood

The cause of SAD is often linked to reduced sunlight during the shorter days in the autumn and winter months. It is thought that a lack of sunlight can stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly which can result in:

  • Increased levels of melatonin- a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. This can be why people with depression want to sleep more than normal.
  • Lower levels of serotonin- a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep which is linked to feelings of depression.

There are a few steps you can take to improve your symptoms if you are feeling depressed during this time of year:

  1. Trying to get sunlight can be difficult when the days become shorter however, going for a walk during your lunch break could be beneficial for your mood.
  2. A good balanced diet and plenty of exercise is important when it comes to your mood.
  3. Talk to your family and friends about SAD, this will help them understand how you are affected, allowing them to provide better support.
  4. Avoid situations that will cause you extra stress and ensure your environment is kept light and airy.

If you struggle to overcome feelings of depression by yourself, your GP may recommend other treatments that could help you manage your low mood more effectively. Treatments may include:

  1. This may be in the form of talking therapies, psychosocial treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that aims to change the way you think about certain situations to overcome any negative feelings surrounding them.
  2. Counselling may also be recommended as another talking therapy that determines whether anything from your past is affecting the way you presently feel.
  3. People with SAD find that light therapy can significantly improve their mood. This involves sitting by a lamp known as a light box, for up to an hour each morning. The bright light produced from the light box is thought to simulate the sunlight that is missing during the dark winter months.
  4. Antidepressants may be used to treat severe cases of SAD to increase the level of serotonin in the brain, helping to lift your mood.

You are likely to be encouraged to make lifestyle changes that could boost your mood naturally at first. Antidepressants come with side effects and will only be used if your doctor feels you are struggling to cope as a result of an extreme case of SAD.

Beat the blues

If you experience symptoms of depression during this time of year, it does not automatically mean you have SAD. Speak to your GP about how you feel as your low mood may not be linked to the seasonal change.

Following the steps to overcome feelings of depression will help boost your mood even if it is not as a result of seasonal affective disorder as SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression.

Have you been affected by SAD? Let us know about your experiences and what you do to cope by tweeting us @imptraining.