Firstly, how is it November already?!?! I don’t get it? I was just in Spain a few weeks ago in August and now it’s November! I walked into my local supermarket yesterday and there were Christmas decorations everywhere! I mean, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t get really excited seeing all the Christmas decorations up everywhere, in fact I think my exact words were “Oh my god, yay!!!!” However, apart from the joy of Christmas day and the Christmas build up, I tend to dread this time of year hence why it probably comes around so quickly every year!
Secondly, I hope everyone had the best summer. But sadly (for those who suffer with S.A.D) winter time has rolled around yet again and it’s that dreaded time of year again. That time of year we really struggle with but have no idea why or what to do to cope a little better.
This blog post is going to be a bit of a long one, but bare with me, because I promise it’ll help you in some way or another. I’m going to talk in detail about Seasonal Affective Disorder – the science behind, the statistics, symptoms and ways to help yourself.
If, like myself and 25-30% of the world’s population, you start to feel down in the dumps, depressed, stressed, sluggish and much more tired than usual in the Autumn and Winter months, you could potentially be suffering with S.A.D and just haven’t realised it yet. A lot of people who have S.A.D can go years without realising they have it and just assume that everyone feels this way during the winter – wrong! Both children and adults can suffer with this disorder and although the word “disorder” makes it sound daunting and concerning, it’s nothing to stress yourself over at all. (Oh, the irony!)
As explained above, in this blog post I will go into detail about exactly what Seasonal Affective Disorder is, the symptoms, my personal experiences with it and ways you can really help yourself. If you haven’t personally been experiencing any symptoms related to S.A.D but you know people who do, continue reading further because it’ll help you to understand how to help and support!
I started suffering with SAD from quite a young age – I must have been around 7 or 8. For a long time I thought it was normal to feel that way every winter – struggling to get up in the mornings, laying in til midday on the weekends (as young as 8 years old!) feeling miserable and negative about everything and not wanting to hang out with friends very much, but then feeling as happy as Larry whenever Spring and Summer came back around. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that my GP told me that what I’m actually experiencing are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and he gave me some tips on how to help myself during the winter. Over the years I’ve learnt a lot about how I cope with my SAD – what works and what doesn’t work, a lot of it through trial and error. I really wanted to write a blog post about this because it’s something that is so common but hardly ever spoken about. It’s important to raise more awareness so that others can recognise their own symptoms and link two and two together and seek help. It’s also important for people to read this and realise they’re not alone in feeling this way during the winter. So, go grab a cup of something warm and tasty, sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of this post!
Seasonal Affective Disorder and the facts:
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. It’s also known as a “winter depression”. It is a type of depression that is related to the changes in season and starts and ends at around the same time every year (October – February) It can be particularly severe during December, January and February. For some people, SAD is so disabling that they cannot function in winter without continuous treatment. Others may experience a milder version called sub-syndromal SAD or ‘winter blues’. It is recognised as a mental health disorder, but it does not mean that you have depression. SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes that people can get during the winter months, but not necessarily every year. If you already suffer with depression, having SAD can worsen your symptoms. Also, although much less often, SAD can be experienced in Spring and Summer instead of Autumn and Winter.
Most of us, if not all of us, are affected by the change in seasons. It’s normal to feel happy and energetic in the Summer and to feel more tired during the Winter. But for people who have SAD, they will feel a lot worse than is seen as the norm and genuinely struggle with day-to-day life during the winter months.
SAD is most common in countries like the UK where there are big weather changes and a difference in daylight hours in Winter compared to Summer.
A staggering 1 in 3 people around the world suffer with SAD, half of those people not even realising they have it and haven’t put two and two together. Approximately 1 in 15 people in the UK alone suffer with this disorder and 4 out of 5 people who have SAD are women. The main onset for SAD is between 20-30 years of age, however, anyone of any age can experience it. It is extremely rare for people to suffer with SAD in countries that are often 28 degrees or more, where daylight hours are long, constant and bright. Typically, the further away from the equator you are, the more at risk you are of suffering with SAD.
Why do people get Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is caused by the reduced level of sunlight in the Autumn and Winter months which can affect people’s serotonin levels. Lower levels of serotonin have been shown to be linked to depression. It’s also caused by a lack of vitamin D – which we naturally get from sunlight. With little sunlight during this time of year, our bodies start to lack that important vitamin D. Melatonin is also believed to play a role in the cause of SAD. Melatonin is a natural sleep-related hormone in our bodies which is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. This hormone, which can affect sleep patterns and mood, is produced at increased levels of darkness. So when the days are shorter and darker more often through the winter, the production of this hormone increases.
Symptoms of SAD:
- Depression; feeling miserable and “down in the dumps” feeling hopeless.
- Loss of interest in things that would normally interest you.
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems; over sleeping and struggling to stay awake or sometimes disturbed sleep and early morning waking.
- Feeling lethargic and sluggish
- General fatigue – feeling much more tired than usual and having less energy.
- Overeating; particularly craving starchy and sweet foods that result in weight gain.
- Social problems; irritability and desire to avoid social contact.
- Sexual problems; decreased libido
How to help yourself if you have SAD:
Although there isn’t really anything to completely cure SAD, there are things you can do to help to make things easier for yourself and to lift your mood.
Photo-therapy or bright light therapy is the most common and effective treatment. Photo-therapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin. Although, there have been no research findings to definitely link this therapy with an antidepressant effect, light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases. You can go online and with a little google search you can find some SAD lightbulbs to help you and give you further info about photo-therapy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been proven to be effective in helping SAD too.
Doing little things you usually enjoy doing can help A LOT. Giving yourself time to not only have lazy days to rest and relax but also days where you complete a small list of things that will cheer you up and make you feel a bit better. This is important. It’s difficult to have the energy or motivation to do anything if you suffer with SAD but if you make yourself a little list of a few of your favourite things to do or activities you wish to complete which you know will make you feel less stressed. For example, a small list of small chores you want to get done by the end of the day (emphasis on the word SMALL) and a list of little things that will make you smile. For example, baking a cake, cooking or ordering your favourite meal, making yourself a cup of hot chocolate, taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, painting your nails, changing the bed sheets (we all know how lovely it is to get into bed with fresh bed sheets!!) watch your favourite tv show/movie. Small but important things.
3 things people with SAD want you to know:
1.) This is real! No, we are not just dealing with “winter blues” and no I cannot just “snap out of it” for the day. I can completely empathise and understand why something called winter blues would sound a bit suspicious and questionable to some people. Is it actually a thing? Is it just an excuse to get out of plans or to stay in bed all day? Are people just over exaggerating the winter blues? These are just a few of the questions that can go through the mind of someone who doesn’t suffer with SAD. I can understand how it might seem like we are simply just going through a “rough patch” because this bout of depression only comes around for a few months at the end of the year. But we can all assure you, SAD really is a very real condition, we are not just going through a rough patch, we are not just simply being lazy, and no, we are not just dealing with a bit of “winter blues” and able to easily snap out of it and put it behind us. Please be patient with us and please at least be respectful if you can’t be understanding or empathetic.
2.) I will likely decline or cancel plans more often than usual, and I’m genuinely sorry. Once Autumn and Winter comes along, when the air gets colder and the sky gets darker, literally all I want to do is curl up on the sofa or in bed where I feel warm and safe. I have zero energy 80% of the time. I just want to be around my family and not have to put in too much energy and effort into anything during this difficult time. I’m not at my best during this time, which is why I often decline invitations to hang out or cancel plans. I don’t like to meet up with my friends and go out when I’m not at my best. It makes me somebody I am not. When I’m feeling crap, tired and under the weather the last thing I want to do is go out with friends because it sucks all enjoyment out of it. When I see my friends I like to make sure I’m in high spirits and that I am fun to be around so that my friends enjoy my company. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my friends or don’t miss them, because I really do.
3.) Yep, we are fully aware how much of a Debbie Downer we are right now and we feel awful about it! We do, as a matter of fact, feel incredibly guilty for the way we come across and behave during our SAD periods. Because it turns us into somebody we are not. Please don’t judge us on how we act at this time of year, because it’s not who we truly are. It’s a condition and a disorder that we can’t control.
I hope I’ve been able to spread a bit more light on Seasonal Affective Disorder and how you can help yourself a little during this tough time of year for some people. 🙂
All my love,