Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) 101

If you find yourself feeling particularly down this winter, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The aptly named SAD is a form of form of depression that some people experience, usually during the winter months. Some people are affected by it during the summer months, though this much less common.

The exact cause of SAD is not clear, but it’s usually linked to a lack of sunlight. It’s thought that the shorter autumn and winter days affect hormones that regulate things like sleepiness, mood, appetite and sleep. It’s also possible that the lower light levels disrupt your body’s internal clock, which can lead to feeling depressed.

As with other forms of depression, SAD can be triggered by traumatic life events, illness, and drug and alcohol use. Some people may also be more prone to depression because of their genes.

Symptoms of SAD

People affected by SAD experience much more than ‘winter blues’. There are many different symptoms, but some common ones include:

  • Depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Sleep problems, including sleeping for too long and insomnia
  • Changes in mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Overeating
  • Irritability
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Sometimes the symptoms of SAD make living day-to-day life hard. If you are struggling to cope you should see your GP.

Treatment of SAD

There are several treatment options, including:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Counselling or psychotherapy
  • Antidepressants
  • St John’s wort

Some people also use light therapy to help with their symptoms. Light therapy involves sitting by a special light box which produces a very bright light that simulates sunlight.

Many people who use a light box find it is a helpful short-term solution, especially when used first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, light boxes are not available on the NHS. Some people find it helpful to rent a light box first to see if it helps with their symptoms.

If you decide to try a light box, be sure to pick a medically approved one. The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association has a list of recommended manufacturers.

Self-care for SAD

There are some simple things that you can try that may help reduced the impact of your symptoms. These include:

  • Getting as much sunlight as possible
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • Exercising
  • Avoiding stressful situations
  • Talking to your family and friends

As with other types of depression, living with SAD can be extremely hard. If you are struggling to manage your symptoms, it’s a really good idea to talk to your GP. They will be able to help you get the support you need to be able to cope, and to eventually recover.

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