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Do You Have The Winter Blues Or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Jan 11, 2019

Many of us experience a change in mood during the cold, dark winter months and it’s not uncommon for people to shout about having the winter blues.

Winter blues are very common with people reporting feelings of lethargy and gloomier moods. But winter blues shouldn’t impact your ability to enjoy life.

What causes winter blue/seasonal affective disorder?

We tend to experience these symptoms due to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. Low light and darkness increases the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy), decreases serotonin which regulates mood and can disrupt your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm).

If you find that your mood and tiredness is affecting all aspects of your life – from work to relationships – you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s important to recognise when the symptoms are more severe and it’s more than just the ‘winter blues’.

Symptoms of SAD (as described by the NHS)

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

Natural light, SAD lamps, exercise and sleep can help with SAD

Whether it’s the winter blues or SAD, getting as much natural daylight is key. Go outside and have a brisk walk in the morning to wake you up. It will suppress melatonin levels and boost serotonin production.

You can also consider light therapy where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight. You would sit in front of it for around 30 minutes a day.

Exercise is also important. Not only does it help increase serotonin and endorphins but it has a strong connection with helping mental health.

Where possible, embrace a healthy sleep lifestyle. Following good sleep hygiene principles helps strengthen the body’s internal clock and also the ability to sleep. Sleep deprivation is a factor in mood changes. When we sleep well, we naturally feel better in ourselves.

See your GP if you think you are suffering with SAD and it’s significantly affecting your day-to-day life. There are medications which can be prescribed as well as looking at cognitive behavioural therapy as a long term treatment for SAD.