Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to mental health charity Mind, SAD, aka. Seasonal Affective Disorder, “is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season.” It’s true that most of us feel happier and more energised when the sun is out, and our days are longer. In the winter, darker mornings often mean we need to sleep a little longer than usual, however, true Seasonal Affective Disorder will have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels.

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Mind list the symptoms of SAD as the following: 

  • lack of energy for everyday tasks and problems with concentration

  • sleep problems – such as sleeping for longer than usual or not being able to get to sleep

  • depression – feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty, like you have let others or yourself down; sometimes feeling hopeless and despairing, sometimes apathetic and feeling nothing

  • anxiety – tenseness and inability to cope with everyday stresses

  • panic attacks

  • mood changes – in some people, bursts of hyperactivity and cheerfulness (known ashypomania) in spring and autumn

  • overeating – particularly 'comfort eating' or snacking more than usual

  • being more prone to illness – some people with SAD may have a lowered immune system during the winter, and may be more likely to get colds, infections and other illnesses

  • loss of interest in sex or physical contact

  • social and relationship problems – irritability or not wanting to see people; difficult or abusive behaviour

  • greater drug or alcohol use


What causes SAD? 

There is no definite cause(s) for SAD. It has been suggested however that the of sunlight during the winter can affect your hypothalamus, which, according to the NHS, is responsible for the following:  

  • production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels

  • production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression

  • body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) –your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

Not everyone affected by Seasons Affective Disorder experience these changes in mood during the wintertime. Some report symptoms to be worse in summer.


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

The ‘winter blues’ is the colloquial term for mild feelings of feeling down or less energised during the winter months – usually the shorter period of colder weather between December and February. It’s a common feeling, especially for those who live in parts of the world with clear seasonal variations, but it’s distinctly much milder and more manageable than for those suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder.


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

Go and see your doctor. SAD is usually diagnosed if you’ve had symptoms for two winter seasons or more. Your GP will be best placed to offer advice on treatment moving forward. If you’re more winter blues you’re struggling with, look into making some lifestyle changes to bring some positivity into dark and cold days.

  • Get outside in the light at least once a day. If your commute sees you leaving the house in the dark and getting home in the dark, make sure to go for a walk outside at lunchtime. The sunlight will do you wonders!

  • Exercise regularly. Exercising releases endorphins that trigger positive feelings in the body

  • Manage your stress levels. Try not to compound your feelings by adding to them with undue stress 


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