Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); Symptoms and Treatment

Now that the days are shorter and we are heading in to winter, you might find your mood has become slightly negative. This could especially be the case with those who are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

So, what exactly is this disorder, and how common is it?

According to Mike Wilkins, who is a counsellor with the Irish Online Counselling and Psychotherapy Service, SAD can coincide with the days shortening, the weather becoming colder and the thought of a long winter ahead.

Symptoms of SAD

SAD normally affects people in the winter months and symptoms can subside in February or March, when the weather starts to improve and the days become longer.

“It can have depression like symptoms. Feeling depressed, losing interest in activities that you would normally enjoy, an increase or decrease in appetite, low energy and problems with sleep,” says Mike.

The cause of SAD is largely unknown, but there are some theories. There could be a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter months. Also, as seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm.

“From my experience men are more likely to have SAD and not recognise it or seek help. Studies show that women are more likely to have SAD but them figures could be skewed by the fact that women are more likely to seek help for the condition. There has been links to oestrogen production which can create a chemical imbalance which can accentuate the impact
of SAD,” says Mike.

Children can suffer from SAD too. The symptoms are the same for a child as it is an adult. The severity can vary from person to person just like regular depression can, especially if it is left untreated. Some people may have mild symptoms and are able to function as normal, where others can feel really low and need medical or therapeutic intervention.

“I noticed more cases of SAD during Covid-19. People felt more isolated and more time spent in doors really exacerbated the symptoms of SAD. Also, people who have suffered bereavements or have painful experiences at Christmas can ‘dread’ the winter months,” adds Mike.

Treatment for SAD

“I think there are simple measures that can help combat this. I think trying to go out for a walk in the daylight hours, trying to maintain your normal routines of sleep, work and activity. There are other options of having a natural light lamp in your home to give you that vitamin D affect and even take a vitamin D supplement,” Mike explains.

He continues: “I also think acknowledging that SAD is a real condition with real symptoms and to get a diagnosis of this from a doctor can help prepare yourself for this in future years”.

While it is normal for everyone to have their ‘off’ days or to feel ‘down’, if these feelings continue for days at a time then Mike recommends you see a healthcare professional: “Notice any changes in your mood or if you are feeling lower than normal, especially if there is no obvious reason for this”.

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