With darker evenings and longer nights, many of us will be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Many of us will be affected but won’t recognize the signs. Here is the My Mind News guide to the condition and what we might do if we are affected by it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
With the darker autumnal evenings well established and winter just around the corner, the long hot summer of 2022 already seems a distant memory. With the arrival of this time of year comes, for many, a dampening in overall mood and the steady depletion of energy levels. If you are experiencing such symptoms, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known more commonly as SAD.
SAD is classified as a type of depression, although it is not known how many people in the UK are affected. Some estimates state as many as one in three of us could be affected by SAD annually – a figure supported by the Royal College Of Psychiatrists.
Either way, it is important to realize that SAD is much more than just a case of the winter blues that can be remedied by Christmas and dreams of a 2023 summer holiday. With that in mind, here are our top tips for dealing with SAD and how to survive the next few cold, wet months unscathed.
1. SAD is most common in the winter
Although anyone can be diagnosed with SAD throughout the year, it is typically between the months of November and March when most cases occur in the UK due to the shorter days and the lack of daylight, according to Anxiety UK,
“Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – it’s not unusual to feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer or to find that you eat more or sleep longer in winter. However, if you experience SAD, the change in seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels and perhaps lead to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.”
2. Symptoms of SAD
Perhaps you might be feeling under the weather, or could you be suffering from SAD? The recognized symptoms of SAD can be ambiguous and are often misconstrued as something else. Common symptoms can include –
- Depleted energy levels
- Changes in your diet
- Physical muscle aches and pains.
Further, Anxiety UK advice states that symptoms can include changes in eating patterns (which may result in a preference for carbohydrates over healthier options), changes in sleep patterns, and difficulty getting up in the morning.
Add to this list daytime drowsiness, changes in sex drive with a decrease in libido, difficulty in concentrating, processing information, and memory disturbance making routine tasks difficult, and you begin to get the picture of how extensive SAD can take hold.
3. SAD is not fully understood
There is no agreed single cause of SAD. However, what is agreed upon is your geographical location and the amount you are exposed to both daylight and sunlight.
According to a US study cited by the Mental Health Foundation, the prevalence of SAD in the southern states of the United States, such as Florida, was significantly lower than that of other more northerly states.
In Florida, occurrences of SAD were only 1.4%, but in Alaska, was as high as 9.9%. The study also showed that the condition is extremely rare in populations of people living within 30 degrees of the equator.
4. Should SAD be treated the same as depression?
NICE (National Institute For Health And Care Excellence) in the United Kingdom advises that SAD should be treated as a form of depression. Furthermore, it recommends GPs and medical professionals take SAD seriously and be treated as such.
This includes employing both talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), alongside medication, such as anti-depressants, to treat the condition.
5. Light therapy can assist in treating SAD
One of the primary causes of SAD, and the reason it affects most people during the winter months, is changes in the amount of exposure to natural sunlight. Living in the northern hemisphere, people can use artificial light sources and specially-created lamps to recreate the feeling of sunshine.
These LED light boxes are different from a normal domestic lamp because they are designed to emit the correct quantities of light, some of which can help to wake you up in the morning, instead of an alarm clock. Other lamps can be used throughout the day to provide a constant source of supplementary light.
Anxiety UK advocates light therapy as an effective treatment for SAD. With a success rate of over 80% in diagnosed cases, this is a popular option as there are relatively few side effects.
6. Look after your diet
Although there may be a temptation to start diving into comfort foods at the first sign of leaves falling from the trees, according to Mind, gorging out on such foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates can make the symptoms of SAD worse rather than better.
Such foods can often cause blood sugar levels to crash, resulting in sluggishness and lethargy. They may ay also increase your anxiety levels. Therefore, a healthy balanced diet is as important for your mental health as your physical health, so it’s best to try to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables alongside fatty oils such as omega-3 and 6 to maintain a balanced diet.
7. Take your annual leave in winter
If you suffer from SAD on an annual basis, you might consider planning your annual leave so that you can take more time out of the office when you need it most.
You might take a week or two off in January or February once the holiday season is over, and spring still feels a long way off.
8. Don’t ignore the signs of SAD
If you feel like you might be suffering from SAD, you shouldn’t just presume that everyone else is feeling the same way or that it is just part of the changing seasons that we all have to put up with. There are various things on hand that might just help.
Chloe Botheridge, an anxiety expert at Calmer You, states,
”If you notice you’re feeling low, despairing, and more irritable than usual, you might be in a bad habit of giving yourself a hard time about this. Please don’t. Having the winter blues is a signal to take more care of yourself and be kind.”
At this time of year, with brighter days and warmer temperatures still several months away, it is all too easy to get bogged down in despair waiting for the spring to arrive. But be assured that it will, and in the meantime, do what you can to look after yourself and your mental health. You want to be fit and ready to grasp those warmer days firmly when they finally arrive, don’t you?
If you have been affected by the contents of this article, please see our Get Help pages for further support and guidance, or visit www.anxietyuk.org.uk for further information.