Seasonal Affective Disorder

A slump in energy and low moods could be early signs of seasonal affective disorder—but what exactly is it?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive illness that typically occurs between September and April when the days become shorter and darker. While it can affect anyone of any age, symptoms commonly begin between the ages of 18 and 30. The disorder—also known as ‘winter depression’—often improves when the spring and summer months arrive. 

From a medical point of view, it is still not entirely clear why people suffer with SAD. Some believe that the lack of sunlight during the autumn and winter months may impede the function of the hypothalamus in the brain, disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm. This may reduce the production of serotonin—the hormone connected to mood levels—and over-stimulate the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel tired.

The most common symptoms for SAD include feeling lethargic, problems with sleeping, anxiety, loss of libido, cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and sugar and a weak immune system. This malady is often diagnosed when sufferers have experienced two to three consecutive winters of SAD. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that treatment for SAD should be approached as with any other form of depression. There are many ways to tackle depression, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and antidepressants.    

Beat SAD

Spend time outside. Our brains haven’t adapted to modern living where a lot of us work in offices. A walk in the morning or a lunch break spent outside can help regulate melatonin and serotonin levels. 

Exercise. A regular workout can have a profound effect on our mood. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the brain—a brisk walk or light jog during the lighter hours of the day will help to relieve stress and regulate sleeping patterns. 

Eat healthy food. While carb-heavy and sugary foods might give a temporary boost in energy, they also increase insulin and lower blood sugar levels leading to unhealthy cravings. Keep carb and sugar cravings down with healthy protein-rich alternatives such as legumes and nuts.

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