Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD or often called the ‘winter blues’, usually affects people in the winter when the days are shorter and darker. SAD refers to experiencing feelings of depression during winter, with symptoms recurring at the same time every year.
In research, women have been found to suffer disproportionately more from symptoms and are more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder.
It’s normal for everyone to have a higher percentage of bad days during the winter months compared to summer, but if you feel overly depressed or anxious during autumn and winter, there are treatments that your GP can recommend.
Five symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
A lack of sunlight during the winter months leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical that helps the brain regulate mood. This can result in unexplained feelings of depression, hopelessness, and irritability.
Feeling less sociable
Due to a persistent low mood and resulting low self-esteem, you may find yourself withdrawing from social activities or cancelling plans to meet up with friends and family.
Loss of interest in activities
It is normal to experience less enthusiasm for your usual hobbies and interests. You may feel too physically and mentally drained to enjoy the activities you usually take part in.
Fatigue and low energy are common SAD symptoms. You may find it harder to get out of bed on a cold winter morning or feel sleepy throughout the day.
Increased appetite and weight gain
People with SAD may have cravings for certain foods, particularly carbohydrates or other traditional comfort foods which make us feel better if we have a low mood. Coupled with reduced physical activity this can result in weight gain.
Five ways to fight off Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you feel yourself getting more depressed during the winter days, try out these simple and small lifestyle changes to help battle off the winter blues.
1. Connect with others
Dig out the phone number of a friend you’ve lost contact with or seek out people with common interests or views to build your network. A sense of belonging and a feeling of being understood makes us feel worthy and validates who we are.
2. Fresh air is a real tonic
Whether meandering through a woodland or across fields, wrapped up in woollen layers or bracing the winds of coastal paths, accessing wide open spaces allows us time to think and reflect. The most effective problem-solving can come from taking a new perspective, so take yourself outdoors.
3. Set yourself a challenge
This maybe setting a long-term goal, such as learning a new skill, or short-term, such as rearranging the overflowing set of drawers in your room. A challenge increases motivation and commitment to act in a certain way; it allows us to reset our purpose and direction in life.
4. Get active
Increasing your activity levels not only improves your health, but also helps your mind too. The repetitive action of tensing and releasing muscle groups tone, but also relax, muscle and can soothe your mind.
5. Focus on quality
Allow yourself time to choose well and take care of yourself. This may be the type of food you consume or how you spend time with the ones you love. It’s not the quantity that matters, but the meaning and fulfilment that it provides.
If you need to talk to someone about your own mental health or that of someone close to you there are services available for you to find help and advice such as NHS Every mind matters, Mind Charity, Samaritans or speak to a GP.
Help for your mental health at Benenden Hospital
If you've been affected by anything mentioned in this article, or would like to discuss your mental health, our fast access GP services can help. Book your appointment online today or contact our Private Patient team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.
Published on 26 October 2020