What is SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder, for most people Autumn brings the change of colours in nature the warmth of leaves changing to their golden hues, the smell of wood burning, Halloween and bonfire night, for others it is the change of season and the beginning of a series of unpleasant symptoms that are associated with seasonal change.
People can experience varying seasonal symptoms, including the “winter blues,” which can begin in the autumn, and a clinical disorder known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. SAD is similar to non-seasonal depression, except it follows a seasonal pattern— typically starting in autumn, worsening in winter, and ending in spring.
While the root cause of SAD is still unknown, there are theories as to what causes the disruption. One theory is that the body’s internal biological clock, which regulates sleep and mood, shifts due to a lack of sunlight exposure. Another theory is that sunlight reduction can cause a drop in serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that can influence sleep, mood, and behaviour. Experts also believe sunlight reduction may disrupt the body’s levels of the sleep hormone melatonin.
We all get winter blues so what is the difference between winter blues and SAD. Winter blues tend to be short lasting maybe a few days when you just have that winter bleurgh feeling, days when you just want to stay curled up indoors and not venture out. SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder is a clinical diagnosis that follows a pattern year after year. Symptoms impair daily functioning and can last for months.
Symptoms of fall and winter SAD include:
- Anxiety, Sadness, Tired/low energy, Cravings for carbohydrates, Weight gain, Inability to concentrate, Withdrawing socially, Loss of interest, Sleeping more than usual.
For those who are suffering, it’s important that you don’t try to diagnose yourself, talk to your GP and seek professional advice.
There are a number of things that you can do to help combat and even help to prevent SAD, here are a few tips.
Even at this time of year when it is cloudy exposure to daylight, can help to maintain the body’s circadian rhythm, which is responsible for regulating sleep patterns, hormones, and other physiological processes. Exposure in the morning tells the brain it is no longer night-time and stops the body’s production of melatonin. Exposure to sunlight also increases the body’s production of Vitamin D, a vital nutrient in mental health. Take a walk in the morning or do another activity that you enjoy outdoors.
Get some exercise.
Exercise can improve mood, increase self-esteem and alleviate symptoms of mild to moderate depression, research has shown it can also help with severe depression. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine, do some you enjoy as you are more likely to stick with it, if possible do it outdoors to combine the benefits noted above.
When you feel that a marathon netflix session curled up under the quilt on the sofa is the best answer this may sound more tempting than going to a social gathering, hibernating like this may have short-term gains though will be of no benefit in the long-term. Social connections relieve stress, provide support and build resilience to life’s challenges, simply meeting a friend for a coffee or a walk can induce the feeling of being connected.
While the thought of that comfort food may seem tempting the fix of simple carbohydrates is a short-term fix and increases insulin levels, there is also the issue of weight gain from that stodgy simple carb food. Eating clean will give your brain all the nutrients it requires, maintain a healthy diet to avoid the weight gain, avoid those sugary drinks and simple carbohydrates.
Create and maintain a regular sleep pattern, set a time for going to bed and maintain it, avoid all artificial blue lights for an hour before bed, turn off the TV, the laptop, tablet and phone, read for the last hour before bed or listen to calming music rather than catch up TV of the mind numbing soaps. The bedroom is for sleep and sex that is it, do not have a tv or your computer in the bedroom, use blackout curtains and blinds to create a totally dark sleeping environment. We all require different amounts of sleep, experiment with how much you actually need and set those sleep patterns.
Do something different from your day-to-day routine, develop a hobby, try a new piece of equipment at the gym, cook a new recipe that you have not cooked before. You do not have to go to extremes and climb a mountain, plan something and reward yourself, it may seem small but it is worth it.
A common treatment for SAD is a lightbox which mimics natural sunlight.
Vitamin D intake.
As mentioned previously Vitamin D is linked to SAD, if you feel you are low in vitamin D get your doctor to perform a blood test. You may need to take a high quality supplement, vitamin D rich foods include oily fish, egg yolks and milk.
If you feel that the above is affecting you please seek medical advice.