Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes known as ‘winter depression’, is a type of depression and formally recognised mental health condition.
How many people suffer from SAD?
In the UK, seasonal affective disorder is relatively common and can affect both adults and children. NHS inform estimates around 2 million people a year, are affected by SAD, and around 12 million people across Europe suffer too.
Why do the seasons change my mood?
During the night, the brain produces melatonin that contributes to making us feel drowsy and induces sleep. At daybreak, the effect of bright light, coupled with the natural rhythm of the brain, suppresses melatonin.
How long does SAD last?
SAD can affect different people for different amounts of time. Typically, those suffering from SAD will do so during winter as these months are when people are exposed to less natural daylight. As spring comes around and natural light increases, the symptoms of SAD often start to ease. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can recur each winter and continue until spring.
Some symptoms you may experience in the winter months include:
- Feeling low and depressed
- Feeling excessively tired during the day and needing to sleep for longer
- Having difficulty getting up in the morning despite having more sleep
- Social withdrawal and loss of pleasure and interests
- Loss of libido
For those with mild symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, working in more brightly-lit areas and keeping blinds wide open during the day can ease symptoms. Making time for exercise outdoors such as cycling to work or regular walks can also be beneficial.
Read more about Dr Bijlani's comments on SAD here.
What is the best way to deal with SAD?
If the signs you're experiencing align with that of seasonal depression, you can bring in one or two tweaks to your daily routine to help you deal with symptoms and continue to enjoy your life as normally as possible.
SAD can affect your mood, which might make you not feel like doing some of the below. So remember to only if you feel well enough to do so.
Tips for coping with SAD include:
Getting as much natural light as possible
When at work or at home during the day, try and sit close to a window and make your environment as naturally bright as possible. If you can, head outside for a break, and think about using light bulbs that mimic natural daylight.
If you’re unable to get much natural light, using a light box as a form of light therapy can also help with SAD. Light boxes are a simple yet effective treatment that can be used when autumn starts and throughout the winter months.
Exercise outdoors and eat well
As well as getting your natural light, going outdoors, being active and eating foods that are rich in a variety of vitamins is a winning combination to help to ward off the symptoms of depression. Exercising produces endorphins in the brain (feelings of happiness), so try to take a walk at lunchtime, play a sport with friends - be active in a way which you enjoy. From a leisurely 10-minute stroll to a 30-minute engaged workout, there are plenty of benefits of exercise on mental health.
It can be very tempting to sit indoors and get cosy for the weekend, but planning an evening or afternoon out with friends or relatives can be a really good way to give structure to your day and avoid loneliness and negative thoughts or feelings.
Don't sleep in too late
The working week can take its toll, especially at the time of year when SAD is prevalent, so truly savouring a rare lie in may seem like a great idea. But during the autumn and winter months staying in bed too long will limit your exposure to light, and your eyes need to take in light to withhold serotonin (a chemical in the brain which ‘lifts’ your mood).
Be honest with yourself
Don’t keep saying “I’m fine” if you’re experiencing symptoms regularly and they’re starting to have a negative effect on your life. Speak to your GP for further help and advice, or seek one of the many available treatments. Remember, recovery from this condition is absolutely possible if you seek help.
Getting help for seasonal affective disorder
It's important to know that you don't have to struggle with SAD alone and that professional depression support is available. Outpatient therapy, consisting of flexible one to one therapy and group therapy, is a common treatment method for SAD.
Inpatient treatment, where you become a resident at a treatment facility, might also be appropriate depending on your symptoms. As a resident, you would receive round the clock support for your seasonal affective disorder.
Contact your GP or speak to one of our highly qualified mental health professionals who are ready to talk through your situation and help you to begin your recovery journey.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or submit an online enquiry form here.