What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

a man walking outside in winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly abbreviated to SAD, is a mood disorder where people experience depressive symptoms at the same time each year. Although most experience SADin the winter, the summer months can also cause heightened anxiety in some people.

Symptoms of ‘Winter SAD’ include:

  • General depression symptoms: feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, withdrawal from social interaction and oversleeping
  • Overeating
  • Nausea

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not known, although it is often linked to a lack of sunlight. The main theory is this reduction in sunlight prevents a part of the brain (the hypothalamus) from working properly, resulting in hormonal changes that cause depression-like symptoms.

The decrease in sunlight also upsets the body’s internal clock, otherwise known as your circadian rhythm. Your body uses this internal clock, which relies on sunlight, to time various functions. For example, when it’s dark outside, your body knows it’s time to produce sleep hormones. Lower light levels during the winter disrupt this rhythm which may lead to symptoms of SAD.

How to treat SAD

There are lifestyle measures that can help with low moods throughout the winter months. It is important to get as much natural sunlight as possible, so exercising outside is a great way to stay fit, both physically and mentally.

Some people with SAD use light therapy to help regulate their mood. This includes using a special light, called a lightbox, that simulates exposure to sunlight, which may help to reduce SAD symptoms.

If you’re experiencing depressive symptoms, and you are struggling to cope, it’s time to see your GP. They will complete an assessment of your mood and lifestyle, as well as asking questions about any seasonal changes to your thoughts and behaviours. Your GP could then refer you to talking therapies or may suggest medication to help with your symptoms.

You can also contact Deafblind UK for emotional support. Deafblind UK offers a six-week emotional support package, allowing you to talk through thoughts and feelings. You can read more about this here or call 0800 132 320.

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