Seasonal Mental Health – How SAD are you?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as it is most commonly known, is a term often used at this time of year – but what is it, and how can you tell if you have it?
What is SAD?
SAD is a type of depression that becomes more evident at specific times of the year – usually in the winter months, but some cases have been known to occur in the summer.
Do I have it?
The symptoms are similar for all types of depression – persistent low mood, irritability, increased sleep, lethargy, reduced interest in normal activities, feelings of guilt and low self-worth. You may even have a low-level of SAD, experiencing some of these symptoms but not all.
The NHS advises that you see your GP if you think you might have SAD and you are struggling to cope. They will assess your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in thought and behaviour.
Why does it happen?
Like many psychological conditions, SAD isn’t fully understood, but current theories focus on the hypothalamus in our brain not working normally due to reduced sunlight. This can lead to; an increased production of the hormone melatonin which makes you sleepy; a reduced production of serotonin which can affect your mood, appetite and sleep cycle; and a disruption of the body’s internal clock, as sunlight is used by our body to regulate important functions such as waking up.
What can I do about it?
There are a few things that you can do to combat SAD that will help you throughout the year.
- Make sure you get as much natural daylight as you can, this may need a little planning around work and family commitments and the reduced daylight hours, but it is important for many reasons not just your mood.
- Refocus on your sleep. SAD can upset your normal sleeping patterns, but we know that not enough, or even too much sleep is not good for your mood. So it is important to maintain a good sleep routine through the winter months. Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, and don’t nap as this can affect the quality of sleep at night.
- Exercising regularly improves mood by increasing your serotonin and endorphin levels. It may be harder to get outdoors to exercise, so increase your indoor exercise activity or get creative and think of chores or activities at home that will get the blood pumping.
- Manage your stress levels. Try to pace yourself throughout the winter months and increase your stress management strategies. Make sure you socialise and don’t withdraw from your friends, this can play a big part in managing your mood.
- Stick to a healthy diet. SAD can increase cravings for carb-heavy comfort food but an unhealthy diet can have an effect on your energy levels. A balanced diet, with plenty of protein, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables will have an impact on your physical health, and help stave off bugs and colds that can affect your mood, energy and sociability.
- Like other forms of depression, talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can be very effective if you are struggling with SAD.
More information on SAD can be found here, and if you are struggling with any of the symptoms shown above visit your GP – they will be able to identify what is going on and provide relevant treatments.
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