mental health

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

The Autumn months can be the start of a difficult time of year for some; you may be reflecting on issues or difficulties that need to be addressed – those which may have had every intention of addressing when the year started, fixating on difficulties not yet alleviated by the yearned for Summer holiday or experience a sense of deflation as the seasons change.

For some individuals, this sense of deflation can be extreme and last across the Autumn and Winter months. It is estimated that 2 – 5 % of the UK population experience “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or S.A.D. as it has become widely recognised. Regarded as a depressive illness the effects can be extremely disabling and massively impactful on an individual’s day-to-day functioning. Symptoms may involve feelings of depression, a reduction in energy, increased social isolation, a lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed as well as a strong desire to hibernate.

For those experiencing “Seasonal Affective Disorder” it is thought that the reduction in light during the Autumn and Winter months affects our circadian rhythms and reduces our hormone levels; most noticeably melatonin and serotonin. Subsequently, our bodies own way of keeping us alert and energised (melatonin) and regulating our mood (serotonin) becomes disrupted leaving us feeling lethargic and low in mood which can then impact on other day-to-day functions such as sleep, appetite and concentration. If this is something you are experiencing you may want to explore a possible diagnosis of S.A.D.

Initially, it may be difficult to diagnose as individuals may experience two to three consecutive episodes before it is recognised. Furthermore, it is believed that S.A.D. can exist as a spectrum of symptoms; at the mild end of the spectrum you may believe you are merely experiencing “winter blues” and yet, at the more extreme end of the spectrum, you may find that how you are feeling is severely impacting on your functioning and engagement.

There are a number of steps you can take to manage the condition. Compensating for the reduction in natural sunlight by incorporating some time outside in your daily routine during daylight hours e.g. going for a lunchtime walk, would be extremely beneficial as would engaging in some light therapy – regarded as one of the most effective treatments for the condition. This works by mimicking natural light, according to the severity of your symptoms, by either using a lightbox or a dawn stimulator both of which should help to improve your natural circadian rhythm and your mood. Other steps involve eating the right diet, engaging in exercise and reducing stress levels where possible. Some practitioners also advocate the use of cognitive behavioural therapy to reduce negative thinking and/or anti-depressants to assist in increasing serotonin levels.

An informed discussion with a health professional along with a combination of self-help techniques may help you to both recognise and manage the condition and take proactive steps to reduce the effects of the Seasonal Affective Disorder. To read more on this topic click here.

If you’re affected by S.A.D, you can talk to someone on one of our online support communities like Mental Health Support and Anxiety and Depression Support for tips, advice and support from people who are going through the same health challenge.


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Victoria Leeson is a relational counsellor based in Leeds. You can contact her on Welldoing.org

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