‘Tis the Season for SAD

Sometimes referred to as the “winter blues” or “winter depression”, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is at its height in the winter months. Described as low mood and depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, MentalHealth.org claim that 1 in 15 people in the UK are affected by SAD between September and April.

The NHS list the symptoms of SAD as the following:

- persistent low mood
- loss of interest in everyday activities
- irritability
- feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness
- lethargy, feeling sleepy during the day
- sleeping longer than normal and finding it difficult to get up in the morning
- craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

Although the causes are not fully understood, studies point to several factors. First, reduced exposure to sunlight seems to affect the functioning of the brain’s hypothalamus which, in turn, affects the production of melatonin, a hormone that is associated with mood, appetite and sleep. Studies have also shown that sufferers of SAD have lower levels of serotonin in their system. Serotonin is commonly linked to feelings of depression or happiness, depending on how much is produced by the body. There is also a possibility that shorter daylight hours affect the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, and we essentially simulate a sort of hibernation. Perhaps SAD is a throwback from our early evolution when primitive man was forced to remain sheltered as his outings were reduced and food was limited due to shorter daylight hours and bad weather.

It is interesting to note that SAD also affects people in the summer months, so it is not necessarily linked solely with winter. Researchers in one study at Auburn University in Alabama went as far as to say that SAD is a myth. Their report stated that, “We analysed data from many angles and found that the prevalence of depression is very stable across different latitudes, seasons of the year and sunlight exposure…being depressed during winter is not evidence that one is depressed because of winter.” They did stop short of discounting SAD altogether and conceded that if (SAD) exists at all, it would only affect a very small portion of the population. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also noted that people living in northern areas do not appear to suffer more than people living closer to the equator.

As always, if you are struggling to cope, please see your GP. If you just need that little boost to lift your spirits during the winter months, Mind.org suggests taking extra B12 or Vitamin D supplements. Short, daily exposure to a light box might also be helpful. A light box is very bright fluorescent tubes that are much more powerful than household bulbs. A short walk in the morning or on a lunchbreak can make a difference. As well, more exercise in general, a bit more time outdoors and a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help. Talk therapy is a possibility and recommended by the NHS and the support of family and friends is always invaluable.

By Elaina Curran, HPD, DSFH, AdvDPLRT, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Past Life Regression Therapist

As published in BS35 Local Magazine, February issue 2019


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