3.2.16

#LetsTalkAboutIt: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) & The Winter Blues

It's not uncommon to feel slugglish, sleepy and like you want to go into hibernation during the winter months - but what if those slightly down days and 'depressing' mornings become more than that? Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is one of the most controversial diagnoses of our time, with many medical practitioners still continuing to believe it's just a case of feeling a little blue during the winter months. However, the number of suffers are continuing to increase and it's becoming a more commonly understood condition. According to Metal Health America, SAD affects half a million people between September and April, peaking between the months of December and February when light is at its lowest. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons and it's perfectly normal to feel to feel more energised when the sun is shining, but for many the winter months bring the onset of intolerable symptoms that have a huge impact on their daily lives.


Surprisingly, three out of four SAD sufferers are women and the onset of symptoms usually occur between the ages of 18 and 30. A diagnosis of SAD can technically be made after three consecutive winters of showcasing symptoms, if the summer months illustrate complete remission - but in the UK it's still incredibly hard to make that happen. (Our GPs are time poor and unfortunately don't have enough resource to treat each individual in the way they would often like.) Key symptoms of SAD include depression (misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness,) anxiety (tension and inability to tolerate stress,) mood changes, sleep problems and lethargy (a desire to oversleep, difficulty staying awake or disturbed sleep,) overeating (craving for starchy and sweet foods,) social problems (irritability and desire to avoid social contact) and loss of libido. Although I'm sure we can all relate to that list to some degree, with SAD the impact is huge; sufferers dread the onset of the winter months and struggle to pull themselves away from the sheets on a daily basis.

So what causes such a huge change in our emotional state during these colder and darker days? As sunlight has affected the seasonal activities of animals (i.e. hibernation), SAD is thought to be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans.  As seasons change, there is a shift in our 'biological internal clocks’ due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns; this can cause our biological clocks to be out of ‘step' with our daily schedules and cause all number of issues. (I don't think cavemen understood the pressures of 15hr working days, constant stimulation by technology and a desire to burn the candle at both ends - we're simply not designed for it.) Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has also been linked to SAD. This hormone (which has been known to cause symptoms of depression) is produced at increased levels in the dark; therefore, when the days are shorter and darker, the production of this hormone increases. Similarly, it's also thought that sufferers of SAD have a lower level of serotonin - the hormone responsible for relaying messages to the areas of the brain that control mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory and temperature regulation.

As a result, phototherapy (or bright light therapy) is the most common treatment and has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin. Light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases during clinical trials, but it’s still somewhat controversial and is constantly debated in the media. Investing in a Lumie Light is a great way to try this treatment out, as their alarm clocks have been designed to replicate the rising of the sun and awake you with natural light; similarly, they offer a range of desk lights to ensure you remain alert throughout the day. (I've got both of these and honestly rely on them to get me up in the morning and keep me perky throughout my working week; there's something about a bright light that just keeps my eyes wide open.)  For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or arranging your workspace to receive more natural light may be helpful. Taking a walk during your lunch break or going for a pre-work stroll may be a great way to get your daily Vitamin D while ensuring you can perform at your best. If phototherapy doesn't work, antidepressants can be prescribed in extreme cases - but as always, there can be side effects.

I'm utterly convinced I have SAD to some degree as I really struggle during the winter months. I find it incredibly hard to get myself out of bed and have a productive day, often have to go for a walk or leave the house to keep myself awake, am known to be incredibly irritable and grumpy, want to eat all of the food all of the time, and frequently feel at a complete loss as to what I'm doing with my life. Over the last few years I've been known to get overly emotional and often struggle to motivate myself to get up and leave the house; scheduling a lot of meetings and forcing myself is definitely the way forward! My Lumie Light has definitely helped, but there's nothing like a walk in the winter sunshine. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way (and I know that others have symptoms that are a million times worse,) so it's important to open up a conversation about a condition that's mostly unheard of, if not misunderstood. If you can relate to any of the symptoms described, please do talk to someone and seek help where necessary; if you know someone who could possibly be suffering from SAD and be unaware, please talk to them and let them know they're not alone. Like many conditions, SAD is completely treatable and manageble - but we need to know what we're dealing with. 

For more information, advice and support on SAD, have a look at the Mind website

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13 comments

  1. I struggle too, the lack of sunshine makes me upset for nothing some days which is why I am trying to do more physical activity, I have found that it helps cheer me up and wake up feeling more ready for the day ahead :D
    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

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  2. I think it really doesn't help that naturally we ought to rise with the sun and go to bed with it, but with work we're often forced up before the sun and many people come home after it has set. The Lumie light sounds fab - I've heard a few good reviews of it recently and may have to invest in one!

    Steph - http://nourishmeclean.blogspot.com

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  3. I've recently done a post all about my experience with anxiety and depression for the Mind charity if you want to have a look http://sophies-edit.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/time-to-talk-timetotalk.html

    Its so important to discuss mental health as it's still so stigmatised and really shouldnt be!! x

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  4. I've had a post sat in my drafts about my experience with SAD but I've just not had the guts to post it as it's really personal. However, I feel with your Lets Talk About It series I'll be more confident in posting it! I tried many things but I also have a light therapy lamp and I find it does help a bit, but some days I don't even want to get out of bed to put it on ha.

    Emily // Beauty and Lifestyle Blog

    xx

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    1. You should post it! :) xx

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    2. I agree with Sophie. You should post it! =)

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    3. Definitely do it!

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  5. Talking about SAD is actually one of my major coping strategies for it - it's so much easier if people around you know what's going on. I also keep rewriting the same blog post about it each year as I add new things in to my anti-SAD armoury (http://romyalexandra.com/2015/09/21/seasonally-affected/ - the last one) - each year I seem to find something new which makes me closer to a normal person from September - March! Very excited to be in sight of the end of the darkness for this year :)

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  6. My mum have SAD. I think I should get a Lumie light for her.

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  7. I struggled a lot when I lived in the UK, everywhere was so gloomy and winter's were just awful. I moved to LA (temporarily) in September and feel so much better and so much more active!

    http://abigailalicex.com

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    Replies
    1. Probably the extreme option ; ) But sun really does make all the difference.

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  8. I just bought a light box and used it for the first time today. I know it's not suppose to have effect immediately, yet today was the first time I've been upbeat and productive in probably 3 weeks. I have depression and anxiety all year around and it's horrible this time of year, so I'm hopeful!

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  9. I don't think I suffer with SAD, but I definitely value getting outside in the daylight whenever I can during the day, and especially at the weekend. I've heard good things about the Lumie light, I just haven't quite got round to buying one yet (though I will, eventually).

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