Why so SAD? (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Seasonal Affective Disorder

This is my favourite time of the year.  I absolutely love autumn, I cannot tell you how much I love Halloween and walks among the crisp colourful fallen leaves just soothe my soul.  However I also struggle the most at this time of the year.  I’ve less patience, less energy, am easily irritated, wake up groggy no matter how well I slept, crave pasta and toast and all round need a lot more self-care.

I never noticed that this was a seasonal pattern until my therapist pointed it out to me and told me about Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) also known as the winter blues.

SAD is a form of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and tends to begin and end at about the same time every year. For the majority of people with SAD the symptoms start in autumn and continue into the winter months, but sometimes people experience SAD over the spring and summer.

Causes of SAD include:

  • The decrease in sunlight due to the change in the seasons may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression as it interrupts your biological clock (or circadian rhythm). This is winter-onset SAD.
  • Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood.
  • The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Some symptoms are specific to winter-onset SAD (or winter depression). Symptoms of winter-onset SAD include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Drug abuse

The symptoms specific to summer-onset SAD (or summer-depression) may include:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Drug abuse

 SAD tends to be more common in

  • Women (3 out of 4 people with SAD are women)
  • People who live far from the equator, where daylight hours are short
  • People between the ages of 15 – 55. The risk of SAD lowers as you age
  • People who have close relative with SAD. It seems to run in families (ahem dad!)
  • If you already have a life event that causes a dip in mood such as a breakup or bereavement.

Symptoms may start out so mild you barely notice and become more severe as the season progresses. This year with covid19 being an additional concern this is something to be mindful of.  As it is we’re already being challenged with a different type of winter on the horizon than we were expecting.  Already clients are bring concerns around Christmas into the therapy work.

SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy. But nearly half of people with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Antidepressants, supplements and talk therapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or combined with light therapy. For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight can be helpful. One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.

If you have any of these symptoms and are concerned or looking for ways to improve your self-care as winter approaches contact your doctor or therapist. If you feel hopeless, drained and worthless this might be something more than winter blues and with support you will be able to feel better.  If you would like to make an appointment to speak with one of our therapists contact us at info@undertherainbow.ie

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