What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and how can you deal with it?
Now the clocks have gone back and we are defrosting the cars in the morning (personal experiences we share with many of you we're sure...), you may be starting to feel a little glum. Whether you are struggling with anxiety, sadness or just feeling a little under the weather, it could be because of the weather and the change of seasons, or even the lack of light you are getting...
Symptoms of SAD
The following symptoms which only occur during the winter months are most likely a sign of someone suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you are battling against:
- persistent low mood
- suffering from a distinct lack of energy
- experiencing a complete loss of interest in your everyday activities that you used to enjoy so much
- anxiety and irritability
- craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities. Fortunately, there are many ways that we can help you to pick up your mood! Most of which we will talk about below... Being irritable and craving carbohydrates (although quite a few claim to experience this all year round) is also a sign that the seasonal weather may be upsetting you!
Typically, these symptoms are regarded as being an unavoidable problem for some, caused by the British winter. But that is not entirely true! The Daily Mail in the UK put together an article recently stating that there are some ways you can avoid the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. In fact, Dr Normal Rosenthal wrote a whole article revealing how you can avoid the winter blues as November comes around. The long list of aforementioned symptoms indicates not just a general lethargy, but a type of depression that comes and goes with a seasonal pattern, known as ‘winter depression’ or SAD.
Heading to work in the dark
Many people will begin to experience SAD when they are stuck inside for most of the day. They will usually head to work in the dark, and also leave work in the dark. It gets to the point where a brisk walk to the local sandwich shop is actually a bit of a chore because it is so cold. The truth is, getting out and about could be exactly what you need. Recently, when the clocks went back, people got an extra hour in bed. This was an enjoyable moment for many, but now it may feel like no one will see the sun at all.
Essentially, the change in seasons brings with it a gradual, creeping depression, and a condition known as SAD. Don't be fooled though, this sort of depression and anxiety is not an overnight phenomenon. You will likely begin to notice certain symptoms creeping in, like getting out of bed becoming a bit of a struggle, then fatigue setting in and you find yourself lethargic and lazy. You will constantly be heading to the fridge as comfort food beckons, but then you begin to gain weight and you just have a complete lack of motivation.
Dr Rosenthal explains that over time, your moods get worse, and the term 'mood swings' comes to mind. You begin to feel guilty about something you may not have done and ultimately become extremely anxious. You just want to be alone all the time. Dr Rosenthal related to the experience of one person who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder here.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has grown in prominence over the years. There was a time when sufferers of SAD could not find anyone to believe them, let alone find some treatment. The good news is, for anyone who believes they are suffering from SAD is that it has won mainstream acceptance. Treatment is now available in various places, including the NHS, but the Mail reported that one in five Britons are believed to suffer from SAD. However, the symptoms and severity of your feelings do vary.
So, by staying indoors you are exacerbating the symptoms. During the winter months, in northern hemisphere countries, the amount of sunlight exposure we enjoy is very limited – especially if we’re office-based and travelling to and from work in the dark. The lack of sunlight may prevent the hypothalamus, a part of your brain, working effectively, which can affect the production of the hormone Melatonin (this makes you feel sleepy – those of us with SAD produce more), a hormone called Serotonin (this affects your mood, appetite, and sleep, if this is out of balance you’ll feel depressed) and your natural body clock (circadian rhythm). Your body uses sunlight to time important functions, like walking or getting off to sleep.
Are you suffering from the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Most people who suffer with SAD often do benefit from light therapy; we offer this therapy option at Tower Health. There have been studies that have suggested that light therapy can actually be as effective as antidepressants. This is good news for everybody. The longer evenings can feel like a burden for many, but getting some light can help so much. Morning walks and meditation are key factors in helping people who think they suffer from SAD to overcome the disorder. To try and combat your symptoms, people have suggested morning walks, or a light jog if that is what you prefer. The mornings will be light, so get outdoors and look up at the sky (never directly at the sun!). Even on the cloudiest of days, there will be light.
At Tower Health we are keen on natural therapies and drug-free alternatives, where possible. And, happily, when it comes to SAD, we think we’ve discovered an exciting new approach to light therapy, that is easy to use, saves time – the current old-fashioned lamps your GP will know about, require a 30-minute session, sitting in front of the lamp every day, and is a proven, medical device but completely natural.