Seasonal affective disorder or SAD – my favourite of all the medical acronyms – is a common mental disorder characterised by a pervasive low mood, that recurs annually during the winter months in people living in the Northern hemisphere.
There is no cause, as far as we know.
We do know that it has something to do with light levels but it might also be a result of cold weather and the fact that people tend to be less active in the winter.
Like other forms of depressive illness the severity can range from mild “winter blues” to a severe, clinical depression.
Britain is full of SAD
Most people living in countries where light levels vary dramatically between summer and winter will have a mild form of SAD, even if they are not aware of it.
Just think how the national mood of Brits improved during the summer heat wave of 2018: according to The Office for National Statistics, the UK economy grew by 0.3% in July. That may not sound like a lot but it equates to an increase of around £780 billion!
SAD comes back
If you have suffered with SAD in previous years, then the chances are that it will come back again this year, but you shouldn’t wait until the sun starts setting in the afternoon before you start to do something about it.
Take up a hobby
The winter months are perfect for indoor hobbies. Jigsaws, knitting, and sewing to name just some of the more boring ones. If none of those take your fancy then try something outdoors, especially something that gets you out during the brightest part of the day between 11 am – 2 pm.
If you can get invested in something new now, while your mood is still good, then you are more likely to carry it on when your mood starts to dip.
Make a diet plan – and stick to it
Winter is all about comfort food. It is about hot, filling stodge and platefuls of anything-covered-in-gravy. But it doesn’t have to be like that anymore.
We over-eat in winter because there were long times in our evolution that food was scarce in the coldest months of the year, and we needed an appetite to keep us constantly on the lookout for food. In our current times-of-plenty this increase in our appetite is counter productive; our insulin-resistance decreases and we get fat: two things which bring our mood down further.
The key thing is to try to eat light, healthy meals, just like the ones you might tend to eat in summer. So lots of fruit and salads, lean meat and fish rather than the heavy dinners typical of a British winter.
Of course, winter food is delicious, and you shouldn’t deny yourself the occasional hearty meal, if that’s what will make you feel content, but make them the exception, not the rule.
Join a gym
Don’t wait until the New Year; join a gym now, before it gets busy.
Work out a circuit that fits the time you have available and just repeat it every time you go. That way when your motivation slips as the days shorten, you will have a target that you know you can physically achieve.
Invest in a light box
I got one of these Lumie lamps about five years ago from Amazon (I am not being paid to say that). It is an amazingly bright light and just putting it on in the room for a few minutes while I get on with other stuff really lifts my mood.
For a more intense effect you are supposed to sit with your face very close to it for up to 30 minutes a day. The idea behind it is that bright light mimics the sun and causes melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, to be released inside your brain. There is some scientific evidence that light therapy really can reduce the symptoms of SAD. The light is also great for finding dropped jigsaw pieces.
Pop some pills
If you suffer from a more severe form of SAD, it might not be a bad idea to start taking an antidepressant before your symptoms even begin. There are medicines to prevent heart disease and diabetes so why wouldn’t you take something to prevent depression?
Obviously, you should speak to your doctor or psychiatrist before deciding if medication is right for you. The advantage of a pre-emptive antidepressant is that you don’t have to struggle through weeks of low mood while you wait for the medication to kicks in, and you don’t have to deal with the initial negative side-effects when you are already feeling mentally weakened.
I hope some of these ideas help, and remember that if you feel really low, even if you think it is just “winter blues” you should go to see your doctor.
If you need more information about SAD you can’t beat patient.info