Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or ‘Seasonal Depression’, is a mood disorder that affects around 2 million people in the UK. It can affect anyone, but is most common among young adults and women and it occurs during periods of lower sunlight levels.
Everyone is affected differently by the condition, but is characterised by low energy levels, poor appetite and a low mood that can impact on everyday life.
The cause of this recurring disorder is still unknown. However, there are a number of treatments that will successfully manage the condition. Read on to learn more about alleviating the symptoms of SAD.
Causes of SAD
Although the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder are not fully understood, some researchers believe that lower levels of sunlight interfere with melatonin and serotonin production.
Serotonin is the brain chemical that helps regulate mood and melatonin is the hormone that maintains the normal sleep-wake cycle that repeats every 24 hours. This imbalance of chemicals impacts your circadian rhythms, or your natural body clock – that cannot adjust to seasonal changes. The result is a major depressive episode.
With less sunlight in the winter, SAD sufferers will produce less vitamin D which hinders serotonin activity. Some studies also suggest that higher temperatures can be linked to summer pattern SAD – but more research is needed.
Symptoms of SAD
There are a wide range of symptoms that may be seen in Seasonal Affective Disorder. These vary between individuals but may include:
- Feeling depressed nearly everyday
- Low energy levels
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Difficulty concentrating
People can experience milder symptoms, and may experience a less intense form of the condition, known as subsyndromal SAD (S-SAD).
One of the best ways to combat seasonal depression is getting outside for a walk. Exposing yourself to bright, natural daylight can be highly effective – especially in the morning hours when our cortisol levels are at their highest.
By maintaining a healthy diet, containing plenty of rich nutrients, vitamins and minerals and taking regular exercise will help elevate your mood. Also, try and get into a good nighttime routine – go to bed and rise at the same time, and avoid staying up too late.
There are a range of treatments for managing the symptoms of SAD include relaxation techniques such as meditation, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as well as medications. Sometimes low dose antidepressants like sertraline, fluoxetine or citalopram can help lift the mental gloom, and help us survive the winter months.
For people with milder symptoms, bright light therapy or phototherapy can be helpful. Bright artificial lamps (‘SAD lamps’ or ‘light boxes’) can be used for set periods of time, simulating the sunlight. Alternatively, sunrise alarm clocks, which gradually light up your bedroom as you wake up, may also be useful.
The most important thing if you are struggling with seasonal depression, is to speak to your doctor. At Wessex Private GP, we will support you and we can discuss personalised, tailored treatments to help you manage your symptoms.
Get in touch today with our friendly team to book a consultation with Dr Charles Middle.