Whilst it’s normal to feel a little low during the dark, cold winter months, some people suffer worse than others due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

It’s a type of depression that comes with seasonal changes, particularly autumn and winter, and is commonly known as “winter depression”. The dark mornings, the miserable weather, and the short days can have us feeling a little lethargic and unmotivated, but for some people, it’s more than feeling a little cold and tired. SAD sufferers may fall into a deep depression and struggle with day-to-day activities such as getting out of bed and going to work. It can really take a toll on a sufferers life over the winter months.

What are the symptoms?

  • Irritability.
  • Feelings of guilt, despair, and even worthlessness.
  • Lacking energy and feeling tired during the day.
  • Sleeping for longer periods of time.
  • A persistent low mood.
  • Cravings carbs and weight gain.

These symptoms can be mild to severe and could dramatically interfere with day-to-day life.

What causes SAD?

The cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but it is likely something to do with a lack of exposure to sunlight during autumn and winter months. This lack of sunlight could be having a negative impact on a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus which could trigger a number of problems including:

  • Higher levels of melatonin being produced which makes you feel sleepy and lethargic.
  • Low levels of serotonin; a hormone that affects your mood, appetite, and sleep. Low levels often trigger feelings of depression.
  • Altered body clock; your body uses sunlight for various functions such as waking up in the morning. A lack of sunlight and dark mornings make it more difficult to wake up which can trigger symptoms of SAD.

What can you do?

There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make over the winter period to fight symptoms of SAD. These lifestyle measures include getting as much natural light as you can, managing your stress levels, and exercising regularly to stimulate the hypothalamus.

You can also look into light therapy; a lamp that simulates sunlight exposure which can reduce symptoms of SAD and make it easier to wake up in the mornings.

If symptoms persist, and you’re struggling to cope, then it is time to reach out to your GP who can assess you and help treat you accordingly.