Why am I sad? Tips for combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder during the Wintry months
As the prospect of heavy snowfall looms large and the cold snap really sets in, it’s important to recognise the tangible effect weather can have on a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
The winter blues aren’t a thing of fiction but rather a very real mental health difficulty that has been researched and recognised. While we know it as the “winter blues” or “winter depression”, its more technical name is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a recognised form of depression that affects approximately 29% of the UK population between the months of September and April – although December, January and February are known as the most severe months for incidences of SAs.
Many people experience a mild version of SAD called sub-syndromal SAD or the aforementioned, “winter blues” however for many others, SAD is so disabling that it leads to reduced function during winter months if there is no continuous treatment.
While it can occur across the globe, it is extremely rare for those living with 30 degrees of the Equator as daylight hours here are usually long, constant and extremely bright.
How real is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Research commissioned in the last few years by The Weather channel and YouGov highlighted the severity and credibility of seasonal affective disorder, with much of the research revealing surprising figures:
– 29% of adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder between September to April
– 8% of these people have acute symptoms while the remaining 21% suffer from a milder form of subsyndromal SAD
– 57% of adults say their overall mood is worse in the winter season compared to summer
– 40% of people suffer from fatigue during the winter months
Signs and symptoms
So how do you recognise the signs and symptoms of SAD and how does it differentiate from depression?
As much of the symptoms associated with SAD are usually experienced by people suffering with depression, it can often times be hard to tell whether a period of low mood is purely seasonal or if the issue signals a more long-term depression.
In most cases, symptoms of SAD begin to appear around the end of September, perhaps worsening between January and February and alleviating as the clocks go forward and the evenings begin to get brighter in March.
The most common signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may include:
1. Changes in sleeping patterns: Quite often sleep problems are related to oversleeping and difficulty staying awake but in some cases it could be disturbed sleep and early morning waking
2. Lethargy: As lethargy is commonly associated with many other illnesses it can be hard to determine whether or not SAD is the culprit, however, lethargy is one of the most major symptoms associated with SAD. People who are suffering from SAD might find themselves consistently lacking in energy and unable to carry out normal routine due to fatigue
3. Appetite changes and weight gain: When it’s cold outside, our bodies crave more food and during winter it is common to crave foods high in carbohydrates which can in turn lead to weight gain and lower mood due to lack of adequate nutrition and self-esteem issues
4. Low mood: Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair are commonly associated with SAD
5. Apathy: Loss of motivation and ability to concentrate is another common SAD symptom and is often associated with the return to work after the December break
6. Loss of libido: Decreased interest in sexual activity and physical contact can be another indicator that you may be suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
How do I fight the symptoms of SAD?
While low mood can often be part and parcel of the long, dark winter months, there are a number of preventative or protective strategies we can undertake to ensure that Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn’t impact on our quality of lives for a quarter of the year every year. Among some of the most effective ways to protect against SAD include:
1. Maximise your exposure to daylight: Do what you can to make your house or office as bright as possible; keep your blinds and curtains open during the day, get bright coloured upholstery. Try and get out for a walk during your lunch break to get some fresh air and natural light and on the weekends try and get up a little bit early to enjoy as much daylight as possible
2. Do something you love: Focus on doing activities that you really enjoy over the winter months whether it’s reading, hiking or even saving some vacation days for a winter holiday. Spend time with friends and family who have a positive impact on your life
3. Treat yourself: Massages are not only a luxurious, indulgent break for both your body and mind, they also have proven health benefits, with many studies showing that massages reduce anxiety and depression. Services like Massage People’s mobile massages in Dublin are a great and cost-effective way to fit a massage in and get that golden relaxation time that your body and mind so desperately crave. What’s even better is that the therapists will always come to your specified Dublin address. With loads of options of massages to choose from such as Swedish massage, Indian head massage, relaxation massages and full-body massages, it really is a relaxing experience like no other and a must for brides in the run-up to the big day. Why not kill two birds with the stone and incorporate some massages for you and the girls into your hen party or bridal shower?
4. Talk to your GP/local pharmacist: Prescription and over-the-counter drugs and diet supplements (especially vitamin D) can be an excellent way to boost your energy, immune system and overall mood
5. Get healthy: Perhaps one of the best things about the winter months, January in particular, is that it’s a great time for a fresh start and to start making lifestyle changes. Why not join a gym? Exercise is not only a great way to get healthy and get in shape but it works wonders for your wellbeing. Exercise and a well-balanced nutritious diet go along way in alleviating the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.