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    General Health
    1234 · 20 min read

    How to avoid seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

    Many people suffer from low mood from time to time, but if yours is persistent and tied to the winter then you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Also known as winter depression, this kind of depression is when the symptoms are usually more (or only) apparent during the winter months.

    What are typical symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?

    Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are very much the same as any other kind of depression; a persistent low mood, feelings of despair, lacking in energy, sleeping for longer than normal, losing pleasure in everyday activities (NHS, 2022). You may also notice that you crave more 'comfort food' (like carbohydrates) and gain weight as a result (Melrose, S., 2015).

    Is there a specific month of the year where more people suffer from SAD?

    December, January and February are the months of the year where seasonal affective disorder is the most severe and this can often begin in the autumn when the days start to become shorter (NHS,2023National Institutes of Health, 2020).

    How can I avoid seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

    It can mistakenly be referred to as some kind of casual condition (in the same way that OCD often is), but symptoms can be severe and debilitating for sufferers.

    The Role of Sunlight

    The exact cause isn’t known but most experts think that it’s linked to reduced exposure to sunlight. During the winter months, there are fewer daylight hours and the colder weather means that people get outside less. This may stop your hypothalamus from working properly; a part of the brain responsible for melatonin, serotonin and your circadian rhythm.

    Because melatonin and your internal body clock (circadian rhythm) rely on sunlight, this is why you can feel tired and lacking in energy if you suffer from SAD. Meanwhile, the effect of a lack of sunlight on your serotonin production is responsible for a change in mood, appetite and sleep.

    The first port of call in avoiding symptoms of SAD is to get as much natural sunlight as you can. This can be hard if you work a day job and find that it’s dark when you get there and dark when you leave, but even a quick walk outdoors in your lunch break can make a big difference.

    If your lifestyle doesn’t allow for this, or if this still isn’t making enough of a difference then you can try light therapy with a special lamp that mimics sunlight.

    The Role of Lifestyle Factors

    It’s also important to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and manage your stress levels to minimise symptoms. However, if you’re struggling with depression after making some key lifestyle changes, then there are other treatments available such as counselling or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication.

    seasonal affective disorder medication - vitamin D laid out on a table

    Are there other health dangers due to a lack of sunlight?

    Not only can a lack of sunlight in the winter months contribute to seasonal affective disorder, but it can also lead to a deficiency in vitamin D.

    Normally, your body can make its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight; enough to get your daily recommended amount without having to worry about it.

    However, in the winter months, the lack of sunlight and time spent outdoors can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Because vitamin D is vital in bone health, muscle strength and immune system function, it’s important that your body gets enough.

    When sunlight is less readily available, you’re able to get the required level of vitamin D from other sources. Vitamin D3 is found in foods like oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), butter and eggs and you can also get this as a daily supplement.

    For those with diagnosed vitamin D deficiency, a prescription-strength vitamin D supplement is available and it’s called Fultium D3.

    Could adjusting the home environment help to manage the effects of changing seasons on a person's mood and wellbeing (in relation to SAD)?

    Yes factors such as better lighting in the home enviroment can help improve SAD in a similar way to light therapy (National Institutes of Health, 2020).

    Better indoor lighting might alleviate the symptoms of SAD, enhancing the health-related quality of life and mental wellbeing of a person experiencing the seasonal affective disorder (Grimaldi et al, 2008).

    Can the right type of blinds impact someone with SAD in a positive way?

    Yes, having the apprpriate blinds and using them in the correct manner in your home can improve the symptoms of SAD for a person suffering from the condition. For example, open blinds will make the environment sunnier for longer in the typically darker winter months, which in turn will improve the levels of vitamin D in the body (Nussbaumer‐Streit et al, 2019Forneris et al, 2019).

    After the pandemic have people become more susceptible to mood changes or depression during the winter months?

    Seasonal depression is most prevalent in the winter but more research is needed to understand if SAD has become worse after the pandemic (Niederkrotenthaler et al, 2022) With more time spent indoors during lockdown, symptoms of SAD may have been worse due to a lack of exposure to natural light.

    Sources

    Overview - Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - NHS

    What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? - Mind 

    Beating the winter blues | NHS inform

    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) | Royal College of Psychiatrists

    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Symptoms & Advice | Age UK

    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Anxiety UK

    SADA

    Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder - Mental Health UK

    Tips For Coping With Seasonal Affective Disorder | YoungMinds  

    Trust Me, I'm a Doctor, Series 6, Episode 1 - Should I worry about Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

    Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - Symptoms & causes - Mayo Clinic

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    Blog author

    Scott Weaver

    Scott is an experienced and professional content writer who works exclusively for UK Meds.

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