Seasonal Affective Disorder or The Winter Blues?

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For those living in the beautiful sunshine of California, the effect of the winter months may be no big deal. But for those in colder, snowier & generally harsher areas of the US, it's common to feel like you need much more sleep and feel a little less energised during the dark, winter days. However, when the impact on your mood becomes increasingly more severe, you may be suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is defined as “a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season.” 

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The symptoms of SAD include some of the following: 

  • Having a lack of energy for everyday tasks and struggling to concentrate 

  • Issues with sleep. Such as sleeping for much longer than usual or struggling to get to sleep 

  • Depression – feeling sad, low, tearful, hopeless and guilty, like you have let others or yourself down.

  • Increased Anxiety – to the extend where it's hard to cope with everyday stresses 

  • Having panic attacks

  • Severe mood changes – in some people, they may experience bursts of hyperactivity and cheerfulness in spring / autumn

  • Overeating – predominately 'comfort eating' 

  • A lowered immune system – some people may be more likely to pick up colds and infections 

  • Loss of interest in sex or any physical contact

  • Social & relationship problems – being increasingly irritable or not wanting to be sociable. Being difficult or even abusive in behaviour 

  • Increase in the use of drugs of alcohol


What causes SAD?

There is no one set cause for SAD, but it is thought that the lack of sunlight affects your hypothalamus. This is responsible for: 

  • Melatonin production – this is a hormone which makes you feel tired & might be produced in higher quantities in those suffering with SAD 

  • Serotonin production – a hormone that affects your mood, sleep & appetite. Getting less sunlight is said to lower your levels of this hormone, which is linked to depression

  • Your body's circadian rhythm – known as your internal clock, your body uses sunlight to time various important functions e.g. when you wake up. Getting less light in the winter may disrupt your body clock. 

So, what’s the difference between SAD and the winter blues?

We've all heard the term "winter blues" before, which is a colloquial term for feeling more down during the cold, dark, winter months. This is pretty common and is generally more milder (and much easier to manage) than the symptoms of those suffering with SAD. 


What should you do if you think you’re suffering from SAD?

The most important thing is that you go and talk to your doctor. It can be diagnosed if you've had symptoms for 2 winters of more, and your doctor will be best to offer advice and treatment. If it's less severe than SAD, then there are some lifestyle changes you can make that will help you feel more positive during these tougher seasons. 

  • Get outside at least once a day. If you leave for work in the dark and get home in the dark, try to get out at lunch time so you can get some sunlight. 

  • Workout regularly. Exercise releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. 

  • Try to manage your stress. Meditate, go to yoga, talk to someone. Try not to add any unnecessary or undue stress into your life that will make symptoms worse. 

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