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9 essential facts you need to know about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

depression health healthy living mental health seasonal affective disorder wellbeing winter Nov 02, 2021

1. SAD is often known as 'winter depression', with symptoms felt more acutely over the autumn and winter months.

2. According to the NHS, symptoms include:

- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- irritability
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day
- sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- craving carbs and gaining weight.

3. This makes recognising SAD tricky, as these are similar to symptoms of depression that isn't linked to seasons, and to burnout. The key bit is a noticeable difference when the seasons change. Interestingly, some sufferers of SAD actually feel worse in summer and better in winter.

4. It's not fully understood what causes SAD, but the theory is it's something to do with the lack of sunlight during the shorter days during autumn and winter stopping the hypothalamus (the part of the brain in charge of sleep, growth and hormone production) working as well as it should. This can result in:

- more melatonin being produced. This is the hormone that makes us sleepy. It's thought that in people with SAD, the body may produce more of it than normal.

- lower serotonin levels. This is the hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep and the lack of sunlight can mean we produce less of it.

- a disrupted body clock, or 'circadian rhythm'. Our bodies use sunlight a fair bit for various internal systems, so shorter days in winter can disrupt our body clocks and lead to SAD symptoms.

6. There are various treatments for SAD, which generally fall under:
- lifestyle
- light therapy
- talking therapy, like CBT.

7. Some things you can try yourself:

- Hit the rays: get as much natural sunlight as you can. A walk first thing or at lunchtime will help.
- Regular exercise, particularly in daylight and outdoors (that walk outside is a win-win, then).
- Create as much light and air at home and at work as you can - sit by a window if possible.
- As ever, a healthy and balanced diet is always going to help.
- Proactively try to manage your stress levels - regular breathing exercises, ensuring you get enough rest and sleep and switching the nervous system to 'rest and digest' as much as possible is a priority.

8. The Norwegians only get a few hours of daylight over the winter months but are nailing it in the happiness stakes - check out my article on 4 Ways the Norwegians are Winning at Winter Wellbeing to learn their secrets.

9. There is tons more information on SAD on the NHS website and please ALWAYS speak to your GP if you think you might be suffering from SAD.

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