Seasonal Affective Disorder Explained.

seasonal affective disorder, low-cost counselling

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is directly linked to the seasons of the year. Although it can occur at any time of the year, SAD is most commonly associated with the Autumn and Winter months. As in so many other areas of mental health, it is impossible to pinpoint a single cause of SAD. Rather, it is believed to be the result of a combination of factors, such as deteriorating weather, a decrease in social activity, and a history of related mental illness.

Around 90% of SAD cases occur in autumn and winter, with the symptoms lasting for an average of about 40% of the year. The most common symptoms include trouble sleeping or getting out of bed, feelings of depression, reduced social activity, and changes in appetite. While certain people are more likely to be predisposed to SAD, such as women, or someone with a previous diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, the reality is that this is a condition that can affect anyone without warning. This is because the main contributing factor in SAD is believed to be our exposure to sunlight, which reduces drastically in the winter months.

The fact that everything is colder, darker, and wetter in winter naturally places most people in a negative frame of mind, compared to the bright, warm days in spring or summer. But the lack of sunlight actually affects us on a chemical level, which is believed to be the primary cause of SAD.

Exposure to sunlight is what helps regulate our circadian rhythm, commonly referred to as our internal body clock, or sleep-wake cycle. In daylight, our bodies produce serotonin, a chemical responsible for keeping us awake, as well as regulating mood. When darkness falls, our bodies produce melatonin, a chemical that helps us fall asleep. With less sunlight, our circadian rhythms are disrupted and the production of these chemicals is altered, affecting not only our mood, but also our ability to fall asleep or stay awake at the appropriate times.

This disruption to our circadian rhythms can leave us feeling consistently tired. Combined with the harsh winter weather, our social lives can take a big hit, exacerbating cases of seasonal-affective disorder even further. For more information on how to avoid this, see our blog on dealing with loneliness and isolation.

When it comes to mental health, there is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all approach. Everything from diet to work-life balance plays a role. But in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder, by far the most effective approach is to spend as much time as possible in direct sunlight. Be it sitting by the window or having lunch outside, letting the sun’s rays hit your skin will inform your body that it is daytime, and help keep your circadian rhythm on track.

If you’re dealing with loneliness or isolation, and are interested in low-cost counselling, please get in touch with us today.