The end of summer and the advent of cooler weather is generally greeted with relief by most of us but shorter, gloomier days are not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, some people are so badly affected by the change in seasons, that it takes its toll on every aspect of their life from relationships and social life, to work, school, and even their sense of self-worth. It is no exaggeration to say that they may feel like a completely different person to who they are in summer.
This condition has a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
While the exact causes of seasonal affective disorder are unclear, most theories attribute the disorder to the reduction of daylight hours in winter. The shorter days and reduced exposure to sunlight that occurs in winter are thought to affect the body by disrupting the body's internal clock, leaving you feeling groggy, disoriented and sleepy at inconvenient times.
Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. During the short days and long nights of winter, your body may produce too much melatonin, leaving you feeling drowsy and low on energy.
Reduced sunlight during winter can cause a deficiency in serotonin which is associated with happiness, focus and calmness. This can lead to depression and adversely affect your sleep, appetite, concentration and memory.
When to seek professional help
You should consider seeing a GP if you think you might have SAD and you're struggling to cope. They can diagnose your condition and suggest treatments that improve your symptoms.
Treatments for SAD
There are various methods to treat SAD including:
- Light Therapy
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
Things you can try yourself
There are a number of things you can do to help improve your symptoms:
- Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial
- Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible
- Sit near windows when you're indoors
- Take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight – read more about exercise for depression
- Try a light therapy lamp
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- If possible, avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress
If you’re diagnosed with SAD or depression, don’t feel ashamed. Depression or mental health treatment is not a stigma. Depression is a medical condition, not just sadness. Getting treatment is taking care of yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you should be able to handle your emotions. You’re a person, not your diagnosis. Reach out.