Do you sometimes feel like you are solar-powered? Feeling happy and full of energy when the sun is shining and tired and down when the darker days loom? If so, you could be one of the thousands of people in the UK who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD can be really hard to live with. It can cause you to have a persistently low mood, make you feel lethargic and make it hard for you to enjoy the things you usually love to do. Living in the UK, the amount of sunlight we get can be limited, so it’s important to recognise the symptoms of SAD and take the necessary actions if you think you could be suffering from it.
Here we take a deeper delve into the symptoms, signs and causes of SAD as well as
looking at helpful ways to combat this type of seasonal depression.
How do I know if I’ve got SAD?
The symptoms of SAD vary from person to person, but common signs are irritability, a persistent low mood, feeling lethargic, having no energy, and weight gain. Other people complain of feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, which are really hard to deal with – especially in the run-up to Christmas, when you feel like you should be all happy and merry. SAD is also known commonly as winter depression, so a lot of the symptoms associated with it affect your mental health, as well as your physical health.
If you are currently feeling some of these symptoms yourself, or feel that someone you know might be suffering, then it’s always best to book in to see your GP, who will carry out an assessment before they diagnose it.
What causes SAD?
Although the exact causes are not 100% understood, SAD is thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the winter months. Sunlight affects the part of your brain called the hypothalamus, so when sunlight is reduced, this part of your brain is not working at an optimum level and can cause havoc with other bodily functions.
As a consequence, the brain's production of melatonin is increased, which can cause you to feel excessively tired and sleepy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the levels of serotonin hormone production are minimised, which can affect your mood, your appetite and the quality of sleep you receive. This is the hormone area that is linked to depression.
So, what can I do?
If you are not feeling well, we would always recommend that you book in for a chat with your GP to evaluate what could be causing your symptoms. They will be able to chat with you about possible therapies as well as medication if they feel it is needed.
There are, however, some lifestyle adjustments that you can make to assist with managing the symptoms associated with the SAD. Even though you might not feel like doing any exercise because you feel tired, by carrying out some gentle movement and activity, it will trigger the release of serotonin, which could help to lift your mood. If you don’t feel up to a full gym session, then lighter forms of exercise such as a yoga class or a Pilates session could be just what you need. Spending time with those you love is also good, and make sure you get lots of contact in the form of cuddles and kisses.
Your diet can also have an impact on how you feel – so keep drinking plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine where you can, and keep your body full of fresh vegetables, fruit and protein to give it the best chance of feeling good.
We know (first hand) how hard it is when you feel low, and it might not feel like you will ever be able to shake off these feelings or sensations, which can cause panic and disruption. But, keep remembering that this is just a phase and your bodies response to the natural environment. Just like everything in life, this too will pass.