Seasonal Affective Disorder, or otherwise known as SAD, is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year, during a particular season.
Most of us are affected by the change in seasons; however, experiencing SAD is much more than just having more or less energy, or a slight change in sleep or appetite. Having SAD can lead to symptoms of depression and has a large impact upon your day to day life.
• Problems with concentration
• Problems with sleeping
• Symptoms of Depression or Anxiety
• Panic attacks
• Being more prone to illness
• Drastic changes in mood
• Loss of interest in social interaction, relationships or physical contact
What are Winter Blues?
For some people, seasonal symptoms are mild and are usually concentrated in the middle of winter. These symptoms are known as the ‘Winter Blues’ or sub-sydromal SAD. This is very common!
What causes SAD?
• The effects of light
• Disrupted body clock (your circadian rhythm)
• Low serotonin levels
• High melatonin levels
• Other possible triggers; traumatic events, physical illness, change in diet or medication and the use or withdrawal from street drugs or alcohol.
How to cope with SAD:
Most people have their own personal strategies when dealing with SAD. These are some useful strategies:
• Make the most of natural light– being outside during the winter doesn’t CURE SAD, but it can be useful to be exposed to natural light!
• Avoid Stress– Many people find that they are more likely to experience stress in the winter months. If this is the case for you; try to plan ahead to reduce the number of stressful activities during that time! Take advantage of the summer to prepare for winter, like buying Christmas presents or stocking Christmas cupboards.
• Build a support network– Think about joining a social/support group! Share your experiences with others who experience the same as they will be the most understanding. Alternatively, you could speak to your GP to seek help and guidance. Realising that you’re not alone is important as it makes it easier to cope with.
• Exercise and eat well- Try to stay physically active during the winter. It can be effective in lifting your mood and increasing energy levels. Examples of activities you could incorporate into everyday life, during the winter months, could be; going to a slow walk or doing gradual housework.
• Visit somewhere with more light– If you can spare the expenses of a holiday, a summer climate is likely to reduce SAD symptoms. Nonetheless, when returning to the UK, your SAD will temporarily become worse.
• Consider using a light box– Using a lightbox, a specialist device that contains a very bright fluorescent tubes, has been found to be effective! This is because it increases your exposure to light during the winter. The routine of using a light box varies from person to person, so you will need to find out what suits you!
What treatments are available for SAD?
• Talking treatments– These can include things such as counselling, psychotherapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These can be seen as useful as they let you understand how to cope and recognise and deal with other factors that may be contributing to your symptoms.
• Anti-depressants– These drugs work by increasing the activity of particular brain chemicals such as serotonin. The DON’T cure SAD but they can help cope with symptoms.
• St John’s Wort– This is a herbal remedy that some people find helpful to deal with mild or moderate symptoms. You shouldn’t use it in harmony with a prescription or light box.
• Bright light therapy– Alternative to a light box, bright light therapy is a more structured form of light therapy. It is supervised by a medical professional. It is recommended by the NICE, but isn’t available usually on the NHS.
The NHS estimates that SAD affects around 1 in 15 people in the UK between September and April.
Some people with SAD, may experience all the listed symptoms but during the summer and feel better during the winter.
British Association for Counselling and psychotherapy (BACP)- 01455 883 300
NHS Choices – www.nhs.uk