Many of us feel that we are powered by the sun. Feeling happy and full of energy when the sun is shining and lethargic and sombre when the dark winter days come. If this sounds familiar to you, then you might be one of the thousands of people in the UK who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of low mood or depression, which is experienced by many people during the winter months when the weather is cold and there is more darkness than light. This low mood could last for a prolonged period of time and might affect your everyday life and the things you do. SAD can be really hard to live with and disrupt many parts of your lifestyle.
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. Also, this year could be especially tough. Because of restrictions, we don’t have access to see our friends and family or attend the groups and classes that we would normally. Therefore, the combination of this potential loneliness mixed with the symptoms of SAD could be extra hard on some of us.
How do I know if I’ve got SAD?
The symptoms of SAD can vary for all of us, but common signs are irritability, a persistent low mood, feeling lethargic, having no energy, and weight gain. Some 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. A lot of the symptoms associated with SAD affect your mental health, as well as your physical health.
What causes SAD?
SAD is thought to be linked to reduced exposure of 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. Consequently, your 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 limits the enjoyment and happiness you get out of life. Also, a reduction of serotonin can affect your appetite and the quality of sleep you receive.
Are there any solutions?
If you are suffering from the symptoms of SAD, you might want to book in for a chat with your GP to evaluate what might be going on. 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 natural remedies and lifestyle adjustments that you can make to assist with managing the symptoms associated with the SAD.
Exercise is really important to help trigger the release of regular serotonin. Even though you might feel tired or sluggish, carrying out some gentle movement and activity 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. You might also want to look at some self-massage techniques to get that skin-to-skin contact that we all need to feel good.
Your diet can also really impact how you feel mentally – 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.
Talking therapy can also be really effective for those suffering from SAD or other forms of depression and low mood. You can chat openly about your feelings, thoughts and behaviour in a private and professional environment where you feel safe, supported and understood. A therapist will help you to recognise unhelpful patterns in your thoughts or behaviour and offer ways to make sense of them and try to deal with them in a manageable way.
Light therapy is also very effective for many people – helping to ease the symptoms and increase energy levels. During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box, which mimics the natural sunlight which you are not getting elsewhere. This type of light therapy can also help to adjust your circadian rhythm, the body’s process for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
You’ve got this
Feeling low can be really tough, and it might not feel like you will ever be able to shake off these feelings or sensations, which can cause panic and disruption in your life. But, keep remembering that this is just a natural bodily response to the environment around you. And that, just like everything in life, this too will pass. With a little help, support and lifestyle adjustment, you should be able to minimise the disruption caused by SAD this year.