Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) And How To Feel Better
As we approach Blue Monday, often said to be the most depressing day of the year, we want to talk about the very real issue of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or ‘SAD’. This is a type of depression experienced by “3-8% of the UK population”, according to Dr Balu Pitchiah, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre. SAD comes and goes with the transitioning seasons, and it is often more apparent in winter, which is why it is also known as ‘winter depression’.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Like many types of depression, there are various theories as to what causes Seasonal Affective Disorder. The shortening of daylight hours is one large contributing factor; a high level of natural light during the day is not just important for helping to keep us awake and alert, but some studies have found that the vitamin D provided by this light affects mood. As there is less light in winter, and therefore less vitamin D, we may be more susceptible to seasonal depression during this time of year.
It has also been stated that people who have lived close to the equator before moving to the UK appear to be particularly at risk of experiencing SAD.
Other causes may include a disrupted circadian rhythm, low serotonin levels and high melatonin levels, as well as elevated alcohol consumption (perhaps in correlation with Christmas and New Year celebrations).
Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Symptoms of SAD can include a persistently low mood; lethargy and longer sleeping hours with trouble getting up in the morning; irritation or frustration; food cravings and subsequent weight gain; and feelings of guilt or worthlessness. These symptoms, and their severity, will differ from person to person and can negatively affect daily activities. Some people may experience ‘manic’ episodes in between phases of SAD where they feel or appear happy and energetic, as well as more sociable.
Dr Pitchiah explains that “there is something called subthreshold SAD which affects about 20% of the population”, referring to those who experience these symptoms to a minor extent.
When To Seek Advice Or Treatment For Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms to the point where it is impacting your day-to-day life, it is time to seek advice. Luckily, there are many treatments which can help, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
However, if you are only experiencing the symptoms to a minor extent and feel that you are able to use self-care to improve your mental state, there are small lifestyle changes which can be made to help alleviate symptoms.
Tips To Help With SAD
- Try exposing yourself to more natural light to improve your vitamin D levels (however, always be sure to wear appropriate protection to ensure that you do not overexpose yourself – yes, sunburn can happen in winter, too!); if you work inside, see if you can move to a workstation closer to a window, or go for a long walk at lunchtime.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. It’s tempting to stock up on stodgy, carbohydrate-rich foods in winter, however, it can be harmful to eat an excessive amount; this could lead to weight gain and, possibly, further depression.
If you have trouble getting up in the morning, try using a light box. There are some which gradually light your room as you wake to simulate the rising sun. Also, avoid looking at screens close to bed time, as bright light can cause your body to believe it is daytime and prevent you achieving an appropriate amount of rest.
If you would like to book a consultation with Dr Balu Pitchiah or one of our other Consultant Psychiatrists, call The London Psychiatry Centre on 020 7580 4224.