The Winter Depression
Print Science Editor, Scarlett Parr Reid, discusses Seasonal Affective Disorder, an issue facing as much as 20% of the UK population
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression typically exacerbated during winter. Though you can experience symptoms in summer and not in winter. The theory is that people are less exposed to sunlight during autumn and winter due to shorter days; this is believed to prevent hormones in the brain’s hypothalamus – which regulates emotions, sleep and appetite – from working normally.
The condition is characterised by prolonged low moods, lack of pleasure derived from activities that would usually bring pleasure as well as feeling guilty and worthless.
You may feel lethargic, sleep more and/ or sleep during daytime, yet find it harder to get up each morning.
Weather changes, e.g. after transitioning from summer to darker colder winter can affect you physically too. You may feel lethargic, sleep more and/ or sleep during daytime, yet find it harder to get up each morning. Perhaps you crave carbohydrate foods and may put on weight. In any case, symptoms of SAD fall somewhere on a spectrum from mild to severe, so aren’t exactly the same for everyone.
A diagnosis of SAD is made if you have experienced two to three consecutive winters with these symptoms. If this is you, there is lots you can do to help yourself, including increasing light exposure by taking short walks outdoors in the day or eating lunch outside. Otherwise, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to improve your heart health can help. If these remedies aren’t useful, talk to your GP and they may recommend something called light therapy and/ or cognitive behavioural therapy.