As the seasons change, the temperature drops, and the nights start to draw in. We find ourselves wanting to curl up for a cosy night in, instead of heading out through the front door. Some of us may begin to feel a little slower, feeling our mood drop as well as being lethargic and a bit fatigued meaning we may also feel a bit more irritable as our motivation fluctuates. So why might we be feeling this way? For a few of us it may be a form of depression that occurs most commonly during the winter season, but for the majority of us, all of these symptoms are associated with ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ or ‘SAD’ for short.
Research conducted by The Weather Channel® and YouGov has found that up to 29% of the UK population suffer from varying degrees of SAD during the gloomier months, of which 8% are diagnosed, and women being 50% more likely to self-report SAD symptoms than men.
It is not fully known why people experience SAD, but some evidence suggests that it is often triggered by shorter days and fewer hours of daylight. These changes influence our circadian rhythms, better known as our internal body clock; – the clock that effects our sleeping and waking-up patterns, and so it is not surprising our energy levels also dip. When it’s dark and gloomy, a hormone known as melatonin is released, which is responsible for making you feel sleepy and some people who experience SAD have been shown to produce much higher levels during specific times of the year, which is why we may feel sluggish during these darker months. A lack of exposure to natural light sources like the sun, can also be of detriment because as light enters the eye, messages get sent to a part of our brain known as the hypothalamus which controls key aspects of functioning such as body temperature, sleep, appetite, sex drive, mood and emotions. The lack of light that we have during this time of the year can cause these functions to slow down, which can also lead to symptoms of SAD. With shorter days and fewer hours of daylight it’s not really surprising that we may feel as though we are operating at less than 100%.
So how do we get out of this funk? Good news! SAD is manageable and can be treated. Small changes you can make include:
Investing in light therapy – In the form of a light box, SAD alarm clock, or SAD light bulbs. These mimic the effect of sunlight, helping you to wake up more easily and can positively influence our internal body clock.
Speaking with family, friends and colleagues that you trust, about how you are feeling, and how you feel this is impacting you day to day.
Increasing your energy levels through physical activity – be it a run in the park or a brisk walk on your way to work.
Getting outdoors, into nature and soaking up as much natural light as possible.
Most importantly, look after yourself – do the things that make you feel good and energised, whether that be cooking, drawing, listening to music, getting outside or even curling up on the sofa with a book. You do you!In short, it’s totally normal to experience SAD during the colder and darker months, so no need to worry, you aren’t alone! However, if you feel concerned that SAD is significantly impacting your functioning, health and wellbeing, then you can always talk to your GP – they can help you to understand your situation, gauge the extent of your symptoms and how much support you may require.