Image from Cornell University

Why so SAD? : Shining Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

In our pre-pandemic lives, you’d wake up in the dark, enter the office as the sun was beginning to rise, and leave as it was sinking below the horizon. And now, with the possibility of another lockdown on the horizon instead of the sun, our chances of seeing natural light this winter are even lower than before.

Just like the sky, does your mood tend to darken in the winter months? If so, you may be part of the one third of Britons who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. Although you may have a lot of questions, here’s a simple explanation of what it is, what are the causes and symptoms, and how to treat yourself.

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is ‘a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends about the same times every year.’ Typically beginning in autumn, SAD lasts over the winter months, and ending in spring as the weather and yourself picks up.

Although the ‘Winter Blues’ feel isolating, around 29% of Briton’s experience seasonal affective disorder yearly. Although it’s experienced by a third of us, the nature of SAD varies from person to person, with some finding it slightly irritating, and others seeing a steep decline in their quality of lives in the winter months.

SAD symptoms and causes

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can be, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, and for most days
  • Oversleeping
  • Having little to no interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Appetite changes, craving carbohydrates and causing either weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or experiencing ‘brain fog
  • Tiredness or low energy

Although SAD is a subcategory of depression and has similar effects, it is caused by rhythm changes to your biological clock as the sun sets earlier; therefore dropping serotonin levels due to lack of sunlight, and a lack of melatonin exposure.

Light up your life!

Although you may not be getting into the office as much due to lockdown restrictions, this doesn’t mean you can’t get your daily dose of vitamin D.

If you’re missing some sunshine, there is one simple cure — go out for a walk. While it might be getting dark earlier, use your lunch break as the perfect opportunity to get away from your screen, move your body, and get some much needed vitamin D. Even if you can’t go on a long walk, a short trip out can help your body regulate it’s circadian rhythm and in turn help your brain out of its funk.

If you can’t leave your home, try to make your workspace as light and airy as possible. Experts suggest that you simply sit near a window, keep the blinds open in the day, and try to take frequent walks outside in between virtual meetings (aka to somewhere a little bit further away than your kettle).

Not much natural light in your home? Try light therapy boxes, such as Buerer’s TL30UK SAD lamp, that give off sunshine mimicking light, which allows anyone who may be lacking in melatonin exposure to get their fix. Significantly brighter than regular light bulbs, in order for it to be effective, a light therapy box is best used in the morning with around 30 minutes of use, giving your body plenty of time to get its circadian rhythm back on track.

Written by Alison Irlam
Alison is a writer with a keen interest in mental health and wellbeing. Since finishing a postgraduate degree in creative writing and having her own experiences with mental health, she has dedicated her time to helping and empowering others to make positive changes in their own lives.

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