Updated: Jun 21
Sarah Cutler I CWC Director I 01 March 2021
Did anyone else wake up in a much better mood this weekend because the sun was out? Well you won't be alone. The majority of us find our moods to be much brighter when the sun is shining and in reverse, find that it dips when the skies turn grey and gloomy. But for an increasing number of individuals, the negative impact that a lack of sunlight can have becomes so intense that it starts to effect their quality of life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern and it’s no coincidence that it has the abbreviation of SAD, because that’s exactly how those suffering with the condition feel when the weather is particularly dull and dismal. There are now more than 20,000 cases of SAD diagnosed per year in the UK, and it’s not really surprising, because the UK weather can be pretty rainy and grim at times, especially during the long winter months. But what actually causes SAD?
It’s generally thought that a lack of sunlight can stop the part of the brain called the Hypothalamus working properly, affecting the production of various chemicals in our brains. We may produce lower levels of Serotonin, the hormone that helps regulate our mood, appetite and sleep, and at the same time some of us may start to produce too much Melatonin – a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. On top of this our body's internal clock (or Circadian Rhythm) uses sunlight to time important functions, such as when you wake up, so the lower levels of light during the winter may disrupt your body clock and also lead to symptoms of SAD.
So how do you know if you have SAD? If you have the condition you'll probably be experiencing some or all of the following symptoms, especially during the winter months:
Persistent low mood.
Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness.
Loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities.
Feeling stressed or anxious.
A reduced sex drive.
Becoming less sociable.
Becoming less active than usual.
Lacking in energy and feeling sleepy during the day.
Sleeping for longer than normal and find it hard to get up in the morning.
Difficulty in concentrating.
Increased appetite – craving carbs – leading to weight gain.
Experiencing the above symptoms in phases, separated by manic periods where they feel happy, energetic and much more sociable.
What can we do about SAD?
Try keeping a diary of your mood and noting down the weather. There are a number of mental health disorders that have very similar symptoms, so keeping a diary will help to see how your mood correlates with weather patterns.
Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even brief walks can help.
Make your environment as light and airy as possible.
Sit near windows when indoors.
Exercise regularly, particularly outdoors and in daylight.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress.
Try light therapy - you can buy your own light box on Amazon for about £30!
Your GP may suggest (SSRIs) an antidepressant that increases the level of Serotonin in your brain.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Councelling.
We all tend to feel a bit gloomy when the weather turns grey, but if you think you might have SAD and you're finding it difficult to cope, you should see your GP.
Information gained from the NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/
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