Seasonal affective disorder: What is SAD? Nine signs you could be at risk

With the upcoming seasonal change officially coming into affect, so brings a change in one’s mood. For many people, spring brings energy and vitality and as such, winter brings lethargy and hibernation. However, if your low mood is interfering with your day to day life, it could be a sign that you may be suffering from SAD. It’s estimated that one in 15 people in the UK suffer from this disorder, with many being unaware of their condition. 

Low mood

SAD is often described as having a portable black cloud constantly following one around. Many sufferers report feeling sad, low, tearful or hopeless.

Other common symptoms include lack of energy, difficulties concentrating and feeling unsociable.

If this sounds similar, then it’s important to determine if these feelings coincide with the change of season.

Lack of sunlight

When light hits the back of the eye, messages go to the part of the brain that controls sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and If there isn’t enough light, these functions slow down.

Some people seem to need a lot more light than others. If you work indoors, and don’t get outside much, this could potentially increase the risk of SAD. Hannah advised: “Try get outdoors each day for at least 15 minutes.

Ensuring you work area is light and airy and sitting near windows may also help. Investing in a light therapy box to mimic natural outdoor light is also advisable.”

Low vitamin D levels

SAD has been linked to low vitamin D levels during the winter months.

Fat soluble vitamin D is synthesised in the skin from cholesterol after exposure to UV rays.

But Hannah said: “Between October and April in the UK, the adequate amount of vitamin D is not properly synthesised from the sun and it is now well known that many people in the UK are vitamin D deficient.

If you’re feeling low, getting your vitamin D levels checked, and supplementing where needed may help.”

Gut symbiosis

When there is an imbalance of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract this is known as gut symbiosis.

Hannah said: “Research is highlighting the ability of gut bacteria to influence mood and cognition via the ‘microbiota-gut-brain axis’, which runs along nervous, immune and hormonal pathways.

If a person suffers with digestive symptoms, doesn’t regularly consume traditionally fermented foods, has not been eating healthy, taking antibiotics or has been quite stressed, then it’s likely the gut microbiota could do with a little extra support.”

Lack of aerobic exercise

Studies have shown that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or cycling can be particularly beneficially for those with SAD, especially if done outdoors.

Hannah explained: “It’s a well-known concept that exercise releases endorphins and makes one feel more positive, happier and energetic.

SAD sufferers are best avoiding exercise late in the evenings however, as this may delay the on-set of melatonin production and can interfere with circadian rhythms.”

Disrupted body clock

A common observation in those who suffer with SAD is a disrupted circadian rhythm.

Researchers believe that the part of the brain which controls this rhythm may work differently in those with SAD, and some sufferers have been found to have elevated levels of melatonin in the winter.

Hannah advised: “Following a set routine, where you wake, eat and go to bed at the same times every day may help. Limiting the exposure to artificial light and electronic devices will also help.

If one needs an excessive amount of sleep in the winter just to function properly, yet still often feel tired, this could be an indication that their body clock is out of sync.”

Craving carbs

Whilst it’s not unusual to have slightly larger appetite in the cold winter months, if a person is consistently craving carbohydrate rich foods, this is a sign of SAD, according to Hannah.

She said: “Instead of reaching for sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates, focussing on getting more protein and healthy fats in the diet is recommended.

Not only will these foods help one to feel fuller for longer and prevent blood sugar crashes, but amino acids are what ice names nabs if their “feel-good” neurotransmitters from.”

Feeling like you are alone

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines say that the same types of treatment offered for SAD as for other types of depression, including therapy, should be offered.

Hannah said: “SAD sufferers often find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other talking therapies extremely beneficial.

If seeing a professional is too daunting, speaking to friends and family is just as beneficial.

SAD is surprisingly common and there is no need for a person to go through it alone.”

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