The perils of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Mahnoor Imam explains the symtoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and shares tips on how to deal with them.
According to the NHS, seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a mood disorder occurring mostly in the dark days of winter. It affects roughly up to three in 100 people in the UK and women are rated to be four times more likely to suffer from SAD than men. Additionally, people begin to feel symptoms as a young adult from 20-30 years of age, however, more teenagers are said to be suffering from this disorder each year. In some cases it is even thought to be a genetic disorder, passed through generations.
The main symptom of a consistently low mood occurs due to a biochemical imbalance as the days get shorter and darker. The body suffers through an imbalance from the adjustment period of long and sunny days, filled with warm temperatures to rapidly dropping temperature, darkness and biting cold wind. One could feel irritable, depressive symptoms and lethargy, severely impacting daily activities.
Sunlight leads to production of serotonin, but a lack of this hormone is linked to feelings of low mood, irritability and depression
Possible theories behind why this disorder occurs could be the lack of sunlight affecting chemicals in the brain. For example, a vitamin D deficiency could harm the hypothalamus part of the brain, affecting the production of melatonin, serotonin and the body’s circadian rhythm. With rapid darkness approaching just as the clock strikes three o’clock, the body’s function to use sunlight to trigger melatonin is damaged. This disrupts your body’s internal clock and possibly leads to problems such as insomnia or sleeping too much during the day.
Sunlight is said to produce the serotonin hormone as well as important minerals and vitamins that aid your body’s daily functions. Therefore a lack of it leads to an insufficient production of serotonin which links to feelings of low mood, irritability and depression.
However not all hope is lost. A range of remedies and treatments exist to ease the symptoms of SAD. This can be done through light therapy (using a lightbox that simulates sunlight exposure), exercising regularly and thought treatment to help manage anxious and depressive feelings and/or thoughts.
Embracing the darkness of winter and making your environment as cosy as possible allows you to spend your shorter days much more comfortably.
Counselling therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also help to manage depression and anxiety, working on altering the thinking patterns that incite negative feelings. One more effective treatment is specific antidepressant medicines such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These have fewer side effects than other, stronger anti-depressants and fosters a good influence on low emotions.
I myself have suffered from seasonal affective disorder for almost five years ago. It began when I was only 12 years old, passed down from my mother and older sister, all of whom experience the same symptoms I do. Personally, the most effective treatment method I’ve found is to lean into it, instead of resisting the upcoming winter months. Embracing the darkness of winter and making your environment as cosy as possible allows you to spend your shorter days much more comfortably.
Give your body time and space to relax for the upcoming changes as your internal clock adjusts to the cool, dark days
Possible remedies include numerous amounts of fluffy blankets, winter-themed candles, scented diffusers: the list goes on and on. Particular hobbies you can take up at this time can be explicitly Christmas themed, from baking chocolate loaf cakes to gingerbread cookies and hanging up fairy lights all around. Surrounding yourself with lots of plants gives a natural greenery in your bedroom that is otherwise lacking in the outside world and can also help to instil a sense of peace. Soft, warm lighting from lamps, fairy lights or candles in your bedroom help to set the mood to peaceful and a sense of lulled calm.
Whatever remedy you choose, recognise which treatment works best for you and remind yourself that inevitably, it will take time to settle into the new change. Give your body time and space to relax for the upcoming changes as your internal clock adjusts to the cool, dark days.
This is not official medical advice or opinion. If you are struggling with your mental health, please get in contact with Wellbeing, Nightline or the Samaritans and remember that you are not alone.