Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern.
It’s not unusual at this time of year for the vast majority of people to feel a bit lethargic, a bit down, and generally under the weather as the clocks have changed and we head towards Christmas. I’m sure nobody particularly wants to get out of bed on a cold, damp and dark morning, but for some, the dark, cold and grey weather can cause a much more severe reaction, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). People experiencing SAD can get any of the standard symptoms of depression, but they will either only happen during one part of the year, or get significantly worse in one season, even sometimes in the summer, known as Reverse SAD.
The symptoms of SAD include low mood, fatigue, overeating and oversleeping, and withdrawing from social events. SAD can affect anyone, at any age, male or female, and believe it or not, can even affect our pets. Dogs especially can suffer, wanting to sleep and eat more than usual, and not having as much energy as they would normally.
Luckily, if you suffer from SAD, there are lots of things you can do to make the winter months more bearable.
Use light therapy. Lightbox or dawn therapies are proven methods that help with SAD. By sitting in front of a bright light box for a few hours a day, you can help elevate the symptoms of SAD. Dawn therapy is a similar treatment, using a special light that lights your bedroom slowly, 60-90 minutes before you wake up, stimulating the natural dawn that we experience in the summer.
Look at your diet. It’s so easy to comfort eat when you are feeling down and it’s cold and dark outside. But whilst indulging in junk food might give you instant gratification, long term it’s just going to make you feel worse. Try eating mood-enhancing foods every day, such as bananas, which help to boost serotonin (the ‘feel-good’ hormone), and if you eat meat, or don’t have allergies, poultry, eggs and dairy produce all contain amino acid tryptophan and vitamin B-12 which help the body produce serotonin.
Go outside. Try to go for a walk at lunchtime, when the day is at its brightest. Even a 10 minute walk on your lunch-break from work can help to boost your mood. Even better, take your dog for a walk at lunchtime, it might cheer him up as well.
Use scents. If you’re into aromatherapy oils, try burning citrus based oils at home, such as lemon, lime or citronella, as all of these are uplifting. Jasmine essential oil stimulates beta brainwave activity. A few drops in an oil burner in the home can make the whole family feel a bit perkier, and essential oils smell great too.
Talk. Talking therapies can really help with SAD, as can CBT and Counselling. But most importantly, don’t hide yourself away all winter, no matter how much you want to. Get out and see friends and family, and make the time to enjoy yourself this season.