How to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

SAD or Seasonal affective disorder is considered a type of depression that is experienced in relation to the change in seasons.

It is a type of depression most commonly associated with a lack of sunlight during the winter months. However, in some people they can feel depressed in the summer months and feel better in winter.

It is suggested that SAD is caused or triggered by the lack of sunlight received by the eyes, which causes the hypothalamus, the part of our brains that is responsible for our bodily chemistry, to change its chemical balance.

Melatonin is the hormone that is produced that makes us feel sleepy.

Serotonin is the hormone responsible for our mood, appetite control and sleep. When the level of serotonin drops it is believed that it can cause symptoms of depression.

Circadian Rhythm (Internal Body clock)

We know that light regulates our sleep patterns. When we receive less light, it may naturally encourage us to sleep more. This in turn may trigger the symptoms of SAD.

Some of the symptoms of SAD include the following;

  • Low mood that persists
  • A lack of interest in normal daily activities or an absence of pleasure in such activities.
  • Irritability
  • Despair, guilt and worthlessness are common feelings
  • Lethargy and wanting to sleep during the day
  • Sleeping for longer periods than is usual.
  • Craving carbohydrates and often gaining weight.

Treatments for SAD

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression.

There are a variety of ways in which SAD can be treated;

Light Therapy

For some people SAD can be successfully treated with the use of Light therapy, which can help some peoples’ mood improve quite noticeably. Light therapy involves the use of a Lamp specifically designed for the treatment of SAD, called a light box. Some people with SAD find that light therapy can help improve their mood considerably. It becomes effective when you sit close to the light box for anything up to an hour at a time.

These specially designed light boxes can either be used as a desk lamp or can be mounted on the wall. The lamps use special bulbs that emit natural full spectrum daylight, and use a very high Lux, which is the measurement of light. This means the bulbs are very bright, much brighter than a normal bulb, and are designed to simulate the brightness off the sun, that is often missing, during the darker nights of winter.

It is thought the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood).

Counselling and talking therapies

Counselling is a talking therapy and involves sitting down and talking with someone trained to listen to your issues and concerns.

The aim of this type of psychotherapy is to create an environment where you can discuss and explore your feelings, in relation to yourself and others, and look at past experiences with the aim to highlight whether anything from your past is effecting how you interact in your life today.

Hypnotherapy allows the subconscious mind to process the emotional content of your life and with a qualified practitioner can successfully aid the emotional healing and issues that are the underlying causes of stress on the body and mind. It is also an extremely relaxing state and can help balance the chemical processes that can affect depression.

Other useful things you can try

  • Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Maybe go for a walk or spend some time outside.
  • Ensure that your work environment is as bright as possible, with fresh air.
  • Ensure that you are getting plenty of Sleep.
  • Sit as close to the window while indoors.
  • Try to get regular exercise and if possible outdoors in the natural daylight.
  • Where possible eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Take a trip somewhere.
  • Do things that make you happy or change your mood, such as listening to music or try some Art therapy.
  • It can also be helpful to talk to your family and friends about SAD, so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. This can help them to support you more effectively.
  • Where possible, avoid stressful situations.