Not your average ‘’Winter Blues’’: Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
By: Shauna McNamara
Updated: 12 October 2021
There is no doubt about it that Autumn has well and thoroughly started. The days and nights have started getting darker and cooler and this year you may say is no different from the rest. However, since last year a lot has changed for so many of us and for some this Autumn and Winter might be the hardest we may have ever experienced.
Many of us have had the "winter blues" at some point. Those cold, long, grey days can affect even the most positive people at times. However, some of us suffer from more serious symptoms at this time of year. During Autumn and Winter months, some of us may experience feelings of depression, fatigue, and irritability, which generally improves come Spring and Summer, but it can happen at any time during the year. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Have you ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
In this article we will look at what is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and how we can manage the symptoms associated with it and we will explore different ways of coping.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that affects us when the seasons change. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are like symptoms of normal Depression. Symptoms of SAD tend to develop at the beginning of Autumn, and they build throughout the Winter months. The nature and severity of Seasonal Affective Disorder varies from person to person.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is still not fully known but it’s believed to be because of the effects of reduced daylight during the Autumn and Winter months. Sunlight simulates the area of the brain called the hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus controls our mood and sleep. In the Autumn and Winter months the level of sunlight decreases, and the low levels of sunlight interfere with our biological clock or “circadian rhythms’’ and it affects the balance of hormones which control our mood and sleep (Serotonin and melatonin).
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
There are many different symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and they usually begin and end around the same time every year, although it’s important to note that not everyone will experience the same symptoms as it varies from person to person. Some common SAD symptoms may include:
- Low Energy
- Feeling tired and sleepy during the day
- Feeling down and loss of interest and enjoyment in everyday activities
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Social Withdrawal
- Feeling Sluggish
- Appetite Changes and gaining weight
- A Reduced Sex Drive
- Feeling Down
- Having ‘’Heavy feeling’’- Arms or legs
These symptoms may make everyday activities more and more difficult. Some people may just find some of these symptoms irritating but for others it can be severe and have a substantial impact on their day-to-day life.
There is no shame in having Seasonal Affective disorder. If you think you are experiencing SAD symptoms, speak to your GP to discuss how you’re feeling and to seek alternative options available. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been proven to be an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps people identify and change their thinking and behaviour patterns which are harmful to them by replacing them with more accurate thoughts and behaviours.
CBT will help you to mange symptoms by thinking more positively. It helps to recognise and challenge those unhelpful patterns of behaviour. CBT has been scientifically proven to be effective in both face-to-face and online capacities.
Here is an article that has been previously written on CBT which may be of interest: https://mymind.org/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt
Counselling is a type of talk therapy which will also help you to discuss how you are feeling and to discuss any worries and problems that you may be facing in a secure and confidential manner.
Antidepressants are often prescribed to treat depression. In some case they are used to treat severe cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
There is still a taboo about antidepressants but there is nothing to be fearful of or be ashamed of. Antidepressants can be only a temporary measure to help you through a difficult time in your life — it’s important to note that you should never stop taking them without guidance or clarification from your GP.
In addition to the above examples of managing your symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are many things which you can try that may help improve your symptoms.
What can help Improve symptoms of SAD?
It can be extremely difficult living with symptoms of SAD, and often it can be hard to stay positive and upbeat in our day-to-day life both at work and home. However, there are numerous ways in which you can help improve the symptoms of SAD that you may be experiencing. Here are some suggestions that have been proven to be effective in helping to improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Exercise Regularly
- Taking supplements – Vitamin D
- Getting outside during the day for sunshine
- Sitting close to a window (If you’re inside)
- Light Therapy — Sitting by a lamp that mimics natural light for 15-30 minutes a day. It helps balance the hormones and our body clock “Circadian Rhythm’’.
- Plan activities you enjoy
- Speak with a medical professional GP and/or Counsellor.
Figuring out what works for you and reaching out and seeking help, making plans with those around, these are all ways that you can help yourself to tackle the sometimes difficult and overwhelming symptoms of SAD. Remember you are not alone and help and support is available.
‘’Through every Dark night is a brighter tomorrow’’
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