If the dark days are getting you down, could Seasonal Affective Disorder be the reason for your winter blues?

If the colder weather dampens your spirits, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Many of us feel like we’ve lost our mojo a little as we wave goodbye to the wonderful long days of summer. But if it feels like someone’s hit the dimmer switch on your happiness as the evenings draw in, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) could be to blame.

Let’s be clear, SAD is more than feeling a little fed up on the dark drive to work in the morning. It’s a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Sometimes known as ‘winter depression’, SAD symptoms usually appear during the winter and improve when spring arrives but can happen at any time of the year.  

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is still not fully understood but it’s thought to be because of the effects of reduced daylight during the autumn and winter months. Low levels of sunlight mess with our internal biological clock and affect the balance of hormones that control mood and sleep – serotonin and melatonin. Some people may be more likely to develop SAD as a result of their genes, as sometimes it appears to run in families.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

SAD symptoms usually begin and end around the same time every year and tend to be at their worst when the days are shortest. Everyone is different and although they vary from person-to-person, common SAD symptoms can include:

• A persistent low mood

• A loss of interest and enjoyment in normal everyday activities

• Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness

• Feeling tired and sleepy during the day

• A reduced sex drive

• Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning

• Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

If you think you’re experiencing SAD symptoms, speak with your GP to discuss how you’re feeling and find out more about treatment options available.

What can help to improve SAD symptoms?

If you feel like your only option is to burrow under the duvet and wait it out until the sun decides to show its face again, don’t worry. There are a number of things you can do to help lift your spirits and brighten your mood.

Go au naturel

During the dark winter months, getting a daily dose of sunshine can seem like an impossible task. If you’re finding it hard during the gloomy days, getting outside first thing in the morning, taking a stroll during your lunch break or sitting close to a window when you’re inside can all help to lift your mood.

Exercise regularly

Move more, feel better. Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin, the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain. If you already have a routine you like, stick to it. Looking for something new? Try a group fitness class at the gym or follow an online workout class at home if you can’t face venturing out into the cold.

Turn up the lights

During the short days, light therapy can help to make up for the lack of natural sunlight available. This involves sitting by a lamp that mimics natural outdoor light for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning. If it’s getting out of bed in the morning that’s your struggle, try a sunrise-stimulating alarm clock, which gradually lights up your bedroom to help you wake gently. Sounds like bliss, right?

Fuel your body

When it’s blowing a gale outside, the temptation to veg out on the sofa eating your favourite foods is very real. If that’s what you’re feeling, then go for it! But make sure to balance your cravings for carbs like pasta and potatoes with fresh fruit and veg, to avoid feeling even more sluggish. A healthy diet will help to boost your mood and give you more energy over winter.

While the countdown to spring begins, focus on the best-bet ways to pep yourself up. If you feel like you’re not coping, don’t hide away. Speak with your GP to help sort things out.