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Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder - How Common Is SAD?

Reviewed by
Date published
05/01/2021
Date last updated
18/12/2020
Length of read
4 Minutes

As the days get shorter and the dark nights get longer, many people notice a shift in their mood. While feeling the winter blues every so often is a completely normal part of being human, there are some more serious signs and symptoms to be aware of.

Within this guide, we will be taking you through Seasonal Affective Disorder. You will discover exactly what SAD is, including how to deal with it at this time of year.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly referred to as SAD, is a form of depression that becomes more prevalent during the colder months. While some people may have mild symptoms in the summer, SAD is diagnosed when symptoms become far more severe in the winter. It’s not uncommon for SAD to be described as a ‘winter depression’.

For some people, SAD will be nothing more than a minor nuisance. For other people, however, it will take over their lives and make even the smallest tasks seem like a challenge.

Signs And Symptoms of SAD

The signs and symptoms of SAD are identical to the symptoms of depression. If you experience any of following, particularly during autumn and winter, you may have SAD:

  • An ongoing low mood
  • A loss of pleasure for things you used to enjoy
  • A lack of interest in everyday activities
  • Feelings of irritability, guilt and worthlessness
  • Feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • A reduced sex drive
  • No desire to socialise or leave the house

Typically, the above symptoms will always be there. However, it’s common for some people to experience ‘manic’ episodes that range from being happy and sociable to sad and introverted.

As well as feeling symptoms of depression, you may also:

  • Lack energy
  • Struggle to concentrate
  • Struggle with sleep
  • Struggle to wake up
  • Have an increased appetite

Causes Of SAD

Just like depression, there isn’t a direct cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Instead, there are a range of factors that may enhance or encourage symptoms to develop. The main cause is believed to be linked to the reduced exposure of sunlight during the shorter winter months.

When we are exposed to less sunlight, a part of our brain called the hypothalamus stops working properly. This can affect:

  • Serotonin levels - our ‘happy’ hormone serotonin plays a huge part in how we feel. Lack of sunlight can lead to a dip in serotonin, causing symptoms of depression.
  • Melatonin levels - our ‘sleep’ hormone melatonin helps to regulate our sleep patterns. People who have SAD usually have higher melatonin levels, causing them to feel more exhausted.
  • Genetic factors - unfortunately, some people experience SAD as a result of genetic factors. If your family has a history of depression or SAD, you may be more susceptible.

How To Deal With SAD

There are a variety of things that you can try to deal with the symptoms of SAD. These methods range from lifestyle changes to medicines. Below, we will discuss the most popular forms of treatment for SAD:

Lifestyle Changes

Eating healthy, exercising regularly and getting as much sunlight as possible may help to boost your serotonin levels. As a result, symptoms of SAD may not feel so severe. Those with mild cases of SAD find that simple lifestyle changes contribute to a more positive way of living.

Light Therapy

SAD lamps have become ever-so-popular in recent years. SAD lamps - also known as lightboxes - mimic sunlight, preventing your body from struggling as daylight hours shorten.

CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to treat many different types of mental health issues. CBT provides you with the tools and thought processes needed to deal with symptoms of depression as they occur.

Antidepressants

Some people live happier lives with help from antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help to maintain serotonin levels. Please note that SSRIs are not for everyone - speak to your doctor for more guidance.

When To See Your Doctor

If the symptoms of SAD are disrupting your everyday life and causing great distress, book to see your doctor right away. They will assess your mental health and provide you with guidance on what steps to take next.

Although a seasonal disorder, SAD must be taken very seriously. If you do not deal with symptoms head on, they may get worse as the years go by. There is no shame in talking about your mental health - the first step to feeling better is always reaching out for help!