Are you Feeling SAD?

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Are you Feeling SAD?

Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real issue for many people over the colder months which bring with them shorter daylight hours and are often accompanied by grey weather. SAD is a form of depressive illness which appears to be linked to light (or, more correctly, its absence) as it occurs most frequently in places far away from the equator.

The main theory about why SAD develops is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly. This affects:

  • The production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, and in people with SAD, the body may produce higher than normal levels of melatonin.
  • The production of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that modifies your mood, appetite and sleep. A lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
  • Your internal body clock (circadian rhythm). Your body uses sunlight to trigger various important functions, such as when you wake up. Reduced light levels in winter months may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.

As a consequence of some or all of these factors, some people may experience a range of symptoms which can include some or all of the following:

  • Having a low mood most of the time
  • Feeling sad and crying a lot or feeling like crying often
  • Losing interest and enjoyment in things you would normally enjoy
  • Feelings of despondency, guilt or worthlessness
  • Feeling stressed or anxious
  • Changes to your usual sleeping or eating patterns
  • Feeling anti-social and not wanting to spend time with family or friends

There are some self-help things you can do if you feel affected by SAD .

  • Try and spend some time outside each day, especially in the first half of the day
  • Make regular exercise a priority, as exercise boosts your mood
  • Eat healthy. This improves your physical energy levels.
  • Stay in touch with those close to you
  • Find fun things to do that don’t required good weather

However, if none of these seem to make any difference then it is important to seek professional help, as many SAD indictors are the same as those for clinical depression, which can occur at any time of the year. Your GP can undertake a thorough assessment of your symptoms and take blood tests if they think them necessary to rule out other conditions. They may not diagnose SAD unless you have a history of seasonally recurring symptoms, but they can offer appropriate treatment options based on their diagnosis. Possible treatments for SAD can include light therapy, talking therapy or medication.

More information about SAD can be found at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/a-z/resource/43/sad

More information about depression here: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/what-is-depression-helen-m-farrell