MY SAD Story- Seasonal Affective Disorder More Than Winter Blues

 

Have you ever noticed you’re feeling a little down from autumn to spring, when the nights get darker and the cold winter months are upon us? I know I have, but I never really understood why that was. I would describe myself as ‘not a winter person’, but it always felt like more than that.

As my usual winter blues have hit me hard this year, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been brought to my attention. The more I learnt about this incredibly interesting disorder, it gave my symptoms more meaning, helped me understand why I was feeling this way, and provided the comfort of knowing that I am not alone.

What Is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern, is a form of
depression that occurs at a specific time of year.

The majority of people suffer in the winter months, from autumn to spring, but SAD can actually occur any time of year, depending on the individual who is affected. In cases of SAD, full remission is expected after the season has passed, which is typically around spring time, for those who experience SAD in the winter.

The condition is most likely to affect younger people, females, and people who live in more northern latitudes, though it can affect anyone.

Symptoms of SAD may include:

Symptoms of SAD
  • A general low mood.
  • Irritability.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Oversleeping.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Weight gain.
  • Hypersensitivity to negative situations.
  • A sense of worthlessness.
  • Lack of enjoyment in activities you may usually enjoy.
  • Finding it hard to concentrate.
  • In severe occurrences: Thoughts of suicide.

Why Does SAD Occur?

The most likely causes of SAD relate to:

Circadian Rhythm and Melatonin Levels

Your Circadian Rhythm is, simply put, your body’s natural internal clock. Its purpose is to keep your body in tune with the rising and setting of the sun. The lack of natural light available in the winter months can interrupt this natural rhythm.

The Science-y Bit

Pineal Gland

At the base of the brain is a region named the hypothalamus. Within the hypothalamus are a group of neutrons called suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The neutrons in the SCN receive information about light from the optic nerve, and use that information to control the Circadian Rhythm. The SCN then relays that information to the pineal gland.

When there’s a lack of light, the pineal gland releases a hormone named melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone which helps you go to sleep, by lowering your temperature and heart rate. When the optic nerve senses light, the same process takes place, and the pineal gland stops releasing melatonin, in turn raising your temperature and heart rate, and keeping you awake.

The winter months are naturally darker, which can cause your body release too much melatonin. In turn this can cause fatigue and a lack of energy.

Lack of Serotonin

Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter, which affects our mood. Essentially, the more serotonin our bodies produce, the easier we are able to maintain a ‘happier’ mood. If serotonin levels are low, this can cause our mood to decrease*, and we may feel less happy than we usually would.

The Science-y Bit

Serotonin can play a part in causing SAD since serotonin production and release is encouraged via Vitamin D.

As humans, we gain a lot of our Vitamin D from sunlight. The late sunrises and early sunsets in winter mean less opportunity for our bodies to be exposed to Vitamin D, which can cause us to absorb less, and, therefore, produce less serotonin. A lack of this important monoamine neurotransmitter can leave us feeling low in mood.

SAD Diagnosis

SAD Diagnosis

To diagnose an individual with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the individual must have displayed symptoms of seasonal depression in the same time period for the last two years. It is important to monitor and note your own mental health in order to be able to provide appropriate evidence and information for your doctor.

If you feel you are suffering with SAD, do not hesitate to contact your GP, but be aware that you may not receive a diagnosis straightaway.

Ways to Treat* SAD

SAD can be treated in a number of ways, including:

    Light Therapy

  • Some sufferers of SAD find that light therapy can considerably improve* their mood. Light boxes are used to simulate natural sunlight, meaning less melatonin and more serotonin is produced, helping to keep you feeling more awake and positive.
    The idea is, simply, that the individual sits by the light box for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning, giving their body time to absorb some of the light.
  • Medication

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are most commonly used to treat* SAD. These are antidepressants which help increase* the level of serotonin produced in the brain, lifting the individual’s mood.
  • Psychotherapy

  • Both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling are often used to treat* SAD.

How I Combat Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Symptoms ofSeasonal Affective Disorder

There are some things we do have control over, which I find help to combat my symptoms of SAD. These include:

Try to get as much natural light as possible

During the winter months it’s easy to hide away indoors. It’s cold, dark and dreary, but try to find reasons to get outside in the little bit of sunshine we have. I work in an office, so see little to no natural light day to day, but I will take a walk outside at least twice during my working day to stretch my legs and absorb what sunlight is on offer.

Take Vitamin D tablets

Those serotonin levels can use all the help they can get, so I take a daily Vitamin D tablet to help boost* my Vitamin D intake for the day.

Exercise

Raising your heart rate and getting blood flowing is a great way to keep you fit, healthy, alert and awake. I find going for a run can really help put me in a better mood.

Make plans and be sociable

Force yourself to make plans with friends and family. Even if you’re not feeling up to it, you’ll appreciate the company when you’re there, and it’ll help keep your mind busy. Who knows, a friend or family member may also be suffering with symptoms of SAD. Your invite could be just what they need to boost* their mood, too. I try and ensure I have at least one ‘plan’ a week.

Stay productive

Don’t sit and dwell on your negative mood, or, worse, sleep the days away. Find something to keep you busy. Writing this article is a great example of the kind of things I do to keep myself busy.

Try to keep things clean and tidy

Try To Keep Things Clean and Tidy

Sometimes you don’t feel up to cleaning your house from top to bottom, and that’s okay, but something as little as washing your pots the night before instead of leaving them for the morning can really help keep things in order and de-clutter your mind. I always make my bed in the morning, even if I don’t have time for anything else.

Eat healthily

Maintaining a healthy diet can do wonders for your physical and mental health. Unhealthy foods, high in fat and carbohydrates, can leave you feeling even more lethargic in the winter months. I try to keep soups, salads and smoothies a constant part of my diet, with a variety of healthy snacks at hand for when I’m feeling peckish.

Speak to others

If you are feeling symptoms of SAD, don’t isolate yourself. Confide in others about your symptoms and work together to overcome them. Whether that’s speaking to a GP or therapist to receive a diagnosis, or just being open and honest with friends and family about how you’re feeling, you don’t need to carry this burden alone.

Image Credits
Featured Image: shutterstock.com
In-Post Images: shutterstock.com

Take Action: Support Consumer Health Digest by linking to this article from your website

Permalink to this article:

Embed article link: (Click to copy HTML code below):

Reprinting this article:
Non-commercial use OK, cite ConsumerHealthDigest.com with clickable link.


 
Author

Contributor : Corinna Tierney (Consumer Health Digest)

Corinna is a Graduate of Lancaster University, with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Media. She is a passionate writer and blogger, covering a variety of topics. Corinna has a paper published in the fifth volume of the Empirical Text and Culture Research (ETC) Journal and actively seeks new writing and career opportunities.
For more information, find her on Facebook, Twitter or visit her blog.

View All