Are You Experiencing the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As winter nears, the weather becomes colder. For some, winter is about embracing winter fashion and moments by the fireplace with a hot chocolate. For others, winter doesn’t bring these warm feelings. In fact, winter can be the start of changes in mood and behaviour. 5pm sunsets mean that the days become darker earlier and we may find ourselves feeling more lethargic and just a little sadder than usual.
As the weather becomes duller and colder, we may experience sadness, less joy, difficulty sleeping, or a change in appetite. And while this experience of the ‘winter blues’ is common, more acute feelings that negatively impact work or our relationships may actually reflect signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a recurrent type of depression that is associated with a change in seasons. It typically develops in autumn and winter and disappears in spring and summer. For some people, however, these symptoms may develop in spring and early summer.
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is related to changes in our body clock, that is our body’s circadian rhythm, which is influenced by the change in seasons. The symptoms usually occur during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight.
Sunlight affects our hormones and some people are more sensitive to this effect than others. Limited sunlight during winter can mean our bodies produce less melatonin (the sleep hormone), interrupting our quality of sleep. Sunlight is also linked to a decrease in serotonin, which has been shown to significantly impact our mood and appetite.
What are examples of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
It should be obvious by now that Seasonal Affective Disorder is more complex than the standard ‘Winter Blues’, and symptoms can vary from mild to severe.
In fact, it can include many symptoms similar to major depression, such as:
- Constantly feeling low, empty, or sad
- A loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Change in sleep e.g. sleeping too much
- Loss of energy
- Slowed movements
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What is the best way to deal with SAD?
As a lower level of natural sunlight in the fall and winter is the primary reason for both the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be difficult to feel like we have control over the way we feel, but there are some things we can do.
Increase exercise and social interaction
Go for short walks with friends or by yourself. Exercising and staying connected with loved ones are important in treating symptoms of SAD.
Chase the sunshine
We mean it! Sit in and soak up the sun. Talk to your GP about the risks and benefits of natural sunlight and discover ways to increase artificial sunlight in your space.
Find small and achievable ways to increase joy throughout your day. This may look like reading a good book, meditating, catching up with friends, or gardening.
Embrace a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining a regular physical activity schedule during the winter months may help with restoring balance and regulating your mood. Going to sleep early and having a structured eating routine with a balance in diet may help to normalise your body’s rhythm.
Speak to a professional
Speaking to a medical and a mental health professional to discuss your options. With the right treatment, SAD can be a manageable condition. Our caring psychologists at Mind Matters are also available to support you through these difficult experiences.
Contact our clinic to find out about the ways we can support you or a loved one.