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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and How to Recognise The Signs

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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and How to Recognise The Signs

SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a condition that affects 1 in 3 British adults. It’s also known as winter depression as it generally begins to affect people when the autumn months set in and the days get shorter and darker. It tends to ease as spring sets in and women are 40% more likely to suffer with SAD than men (source from The Independent).

For many of us, the advent of winter makes us feel low, and without knowing it, we could be suffering with SAD. For others, having SAD means experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to function day to day and can be serious. 

Understanding the Symptoms of SAD

The symptoms of SAD are as follows; you may experience all or some of them, and to varying degrees – on some autumn or winter days you may suffer one symptom worse or better than another and, on another day, you may experience a different degree of symptoms:

  • Feeling blue some, most or all of the time
  • Feeling tearful or overly emotional
  • Feeling irritable or ‘wound up’ at the smallest of things
  • Feeling stressed or anxious about things that may not have made you feel that way before
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Losing your self-esteem
  • Losing interest in the things that have previously given you pleasure
  • Losing your libido
  • Losing your sense of fun
  • Avoiding social situations
  • An increased appetite, especially for ‘stodgy’ high carbohydrate or comforting foods
  • Gaining weight
  • A lack of energy
  • Being less energetic or active
  • Finding it hard to focus or be productive
  • Needing more sleep than usual
  • Finding it more difficult to get out of bed

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, that guides the NHS, recommends that serious cases of SAD are treated in the same was as depression. This includes taking antidepressant medications or talking therapies such as CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy.

But there are things you can try at home if your symptoms don’t mean that you feel you need to see your GP.

The main way to help mild cases of SAD is to maximise the daylight you’re exposed to during the day. There are lots of ways you can do this including:

  • Getting off the bus or train a few stops earlier in the morning and walking the rest of the way
  • Taking a walk during your lunch break or even spending a ten minute tea break outside
  • Where possible, sitting near a window or door at home or at work
  • Making a point of taking a long walk or exercising outdoors at the weekend or on your days off

You can also use a SAD lamp, a special light box designed to emulate natural light. These are available as lamps that wake you up by gradually getting lighter in the morning or as desk lamps that can be used at work or at home. These are said to help by prompting your brain to increase the amount of the feel-good hormone, serotonin it produces and decrease the amount of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, it produces.

Dark, cold mornings, going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark and feeling like we don’t have an evening can all make us feel low or experience any of the above symptoms. But if you think you have SAD and it’s affecting your day to day life, it’s important to speak to your GP about getting help for your condition.

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