Coping with the ‘winter blues’: An introduction to winter SAD
At our blog co-production meeting this week, our volunteer and blogger Adam tells us about winter SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and how it can affect people. He also gives tips on how you can use self-care strategies to beat the symptoms.
As we approach Christmas, with the clocks having gone back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and with the night’s drawing-in, many people suffer from low mood. This may be due to winter seasonal affective disorder or winter SAD or what is also known as seasonal depression. Seasonal depression can be experienced at any time of the year including the summer but is more commonly associated with winter.
SAD is a form of depression that is experienced at particular times of the year associated with changes in the availability of daylight and changes to the prevailing weather.
It is advisable to see your GP if you think you may suffer from SAD and/or are struggling to cope. Winter SAD can be difficult to diagnose as it usually takes time to recognise a seasonal pattern. To make the diagnosis your GP may ask you two questions: i) do you suffer from depression at a similar time each year? And, ii) do you suffer from periods of depression interspersed with periods without depression?
Some of the main symptoms of winter SAD may include a lack of energy, low activity, lethargy, a loss of pleasure in everyday activities; sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, persistent low mood, gaining weight, becoming less sociable, irritability, heightened stress or anxiety and low self-esteem.
There is much about winter SAD which is not understood by the medical community, but there are a number of theories about the causes of the condition. These theories revolve around the ways changes in daylight effect the body’s circadian rhythm or body clock; the existence of excess levels of melatonin resulting in a form of ‘hibernation’; the presence of lower levels of serotonin leading to persistent low mood.
There are, however, plenty of self-care strategies that can be used to mitigate the symptoms of winter SAD. Some of these include:
- Spending as much time as possible in natural light. This could involve spending time outside, for example, going on walks, or simply sitting near windows when indoors.
- It is advised to manage stress levels and to avoid stressful situations, to exercise regularly (where ever possible in natural light) and to generally look after your physical health, and to make your work and home environment as light and airy as possible.
- It is also advised to plan ahead for winter when winter SAD sufferers are less functional, by, for example, preparing meals in advance and freezing them.
In addition, it is advised that you visit your GP who may refer you to a number of other services or treatments available. While supporting evidence of its therapeutic effects is debated, your GP may recommend light therapy but this is not provided by the NHS. This involves using a light box, emitting strong white or blue light, to simulate sunlight. Some people find that exposure to such light therapy in the morning moderates their symptoms of winter SAD.
For more detailed information on winter SAD or seasonal depression, click here for a useful 15-page summary produced by MIND.
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