What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? (SAD)
Studies have shown that 29 per cent of adults experience symptoms of SAD at this time of year. SAD, aka Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year. Usually, it is most common in the winter months, when we experience darker nights and gloomy days.
The causes are still not clear, however, there is some evidence to suggest that reduced sunlight exposure leads us to have a decrease in serotonin levels and also a lack of vitamin D. It can also increase the production of melatonin which makes you sleepier. All of these can lead to depressive feelings and low mood.
Symptoms of SAD range in severity and can include:
- Low energy levels
- Low self-esteem
- Changes in appetite; usually eating more and craving carbohydrates.
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness
Read on to find out how you can stay positive through the winter months and dark nights.
Getting as much natural sunlight as possible will be a great help when it comes to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Try and push yourself to go on a daily walk, and you will soon start to notice that little by little, each day you start to feel a bit better. By taking up healthy habits, eating well and scheduling fun and relaxation into your daily life, you will be able to stay more positive.
If you can’t manage a daily walk, try even drinking your coffee outside. Whilst at home, try to increase the natural light by opening blinds and sitting closer to windows.
By exposing yourself to sunlight, it will help to boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. You can also take vitamin D as a supplement to help boost this further.
Nature is always the best healer- so try and get outside in it as much as possible.
Did you know that exercise can be an effective anti-depressant? Exercise is known for boosting serotonin, endorphins, as well as other feel- good brain chemicals. Having that daily dose of exercise will also help you to sleep better.
A 30-60 minute walk a day, or a dancing exercise video will really help to boost your mood. Build it into your routine- even if it is as simple as a longer walk with the dog each afternoon.
Why not take part in a fitness challenge? Local entrepreneurs have recently launched the Step Up challenge which encourages you to complete 1,000,000 steps between the 1st November and 21st December. They suggest you ‘Walk, run, dance or zumba your way to Christmas and keep mentally focused as an individual, team or group, no matter the weather!’.
To encourage people to look after their wellbeing, Dorset Mind have also recently launched ‘Move Your Mind’ challenge which aims to encourage you to get active for at least 30 minutes a day every day throughout January.
Turn to your loved ones
Turn to your loved ones for help. Your friends and family will be there to support you, reduce isolation and help you to manage SAD.
Although the impending lockdown will make it harder, connecting with people is an essential part of staying mentally healthy and is one of the 5 ways to welling.
Turn up to social activities, even on the days you really want to stay at home cocooned with Netflix.
It’s important to make the effort to connect with people, both old and new. You could call an old friend and arrange a coffee or ask a work colleague out. A great way to meet new people is through hobbies or clubs, that way you already have something in common. Volunteering is also another great way to meet new friends, and you could even join a support group for depression.
If your usual social groups or activities aren’t possible with the Covid-19 restrictions, join in with any online meetings they have arranged, or even arrange some yourself!
Are you eating the right foods?
Make sure you get enough fruit and vegetables into your diet; this will help to boost your energy and reduce unwanted mood swings. When you’re feeling down, it is easy to turn to alcohol, and sugary foods. However, foods such as oatmeal, brown rice and bananas can help to boost serotonin levels, without the sugar crash.
Oily fish, walnuts and flaxseeds, along with other foods rich in omega- 3 fats will also help with your mood. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet it essential for the maintenance of positive mood, especially if you’re suffering with SAD.
If you’re suffering with a lot of stress in your life, then you need to try and take steps to control this. Seek help and support with your workload, turn away from unsupportive relationships and practise daily relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation.
Do something you love each day
What do you enjoy doing? Or used to enjoy doing? Try and bring that back into your daily routine. By having fun, you will be busting stress and bringing joy back into your life. Whether for you it’s playing video games, painting, seeing friends or decorating, try and incorporate it back into your life.
If you have seen a doctor and have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, then there are a couple of ways to treat it. One way is through Light Therapy, where this therapy exposes you to bright lights that mimic natural outdoor light. Other treatment options available are CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or medication. Your doctor will be able to advise which is the best option for you.
It will get better…
Just as the winter turns into Spring with fresh hope, SAD will get better for you. Use the tips above to help you stay positive through the winter months and darker nights.
Thank you to Gayleen for writing this blog. If you need further help and support at this time of year, then visit the Help and Support page at Dorset Mind for self-care information and sign-posting.