What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Nicola. January 31, 2023
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

A New Year means new opportunities and new beginnings. It is a time when people may be working on their resolutions and trying to start the year on a positive note. But what if something was stopping you from achieving your new year goals?

Although many people experience short periods when they feel sad or not like their usual selves, for some people, this change may be stronger when the seasons change. People may also start to feel more “down” when the days are shorter and the weather is dreary.

But if this feeling of sadness lasts for longer than normal, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that occurs when people experience recurrent periods of depression when a change in the season takes place. SAD can either occur over the autumn/winter periods (“winter blues”) or, in less common cases, at the start of the spring/summer months.

SAD can be different for everybody and can vary from season to season, so the symptoms can vary in type and severity depending on you and your general state of mind.

The most common symptoms are usually a lack of energy or enthusiasm to do the things you normally do. It may feel harder to concentrate and you may feel more irritable than usual. Your sleeping habits may also be impacted, as you find yourself sleeping for longer periods of time and finding it harder to get out of bed in the morning. For others, SAD may cause you to have trouble falling asleep and to be restless during the night.

Another common symptom is to want to keep yourself away from other people and isolate yourself. You may also feel less interested in sex or other forms of physical contact with others.

SAD can also affect your eating habits, as you may feel hungrier and crave more carbohydrates. On the flip side, you may lose your appetite and find yourself not wanting to eat at all!

Seasonal depression can also take a big toll on your mood, and this can have the biggest impact on your mental well-being. Feeling depressed, sad, low, guilty, or helpless are common symptoms no matter what happens or what you do, you may find it impossible to shake these feelings.

Although there is no exact answer for what causes SAD, research has found that reduced exposure to natural sunlight in the autumn and winter months can lead to hormonal changes that are linked to SAD. One popular theory is that less sunlight during autumn and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. It's also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

Although it may feel really hard to bounce back from SAD, here are some simple things you can try that can help:

  • 1. Try to get as much exposure to natural sunlight as possible by getting outside early in the morning. This will be harder in the winter months, so try to take advantage of the sun when it is out! A SAD light can also be used when there isn’t enough natural light, but light therapy is not as effective as using the sun!!
  • 2. Another step that you can take is to start exercising regularly (preferably outdoors so you can get some sun too). Exercise releases endorphins, which are hormones that reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being. Exercise also helps to increase your metabolism, which helps to improve your energy levels.
  • 3. Eating a balanced and healthy diet can also help to make you feel better, as will avoiding stressful situations (but this is easier said than done!)
  • 4. If you feel like you can’t cope with the symptoms alone, visiting your GP is often the first step if you need additional support to cope with SAD. Your GP will carry out an assessment to check your mental health and recommend the most suitable treatment option for you. Several treatment options are available including cognitive behavioural therapy, antidepressants, and light therapy.
  • 5. Spending time with friends and family . While it is easy to feel isolated and push others away, there are always people who genuinely care and will be there to help you when you need it. Confide in someone you trust and who will be there to listen without judgement!

If you think you may be experiencing SAD and simply want someone to talk to, we are here to help. Whether it is simply to have a chat or to overcome a physical injury that may be adding to your negative mood, our physiotherapists would love to be there for you. If you’re looking for another exercise option, we also run a Pilates class every Tuesday between 7:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M.

If you’re ready to get things back on track, give us a ring today to book your appointment and have a chat with one of our team. Helping people is what we do at Xcel Health, and we will be there to help you too!

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