What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder And 3 Tips To Beat It

Anyone who lives in a place with truly defined seasons, where a year sees everything from bright sunshine to rain, clouds and even snow, will know the short days of winter. Winter can be a long season, with reduced daytime and long dark evenings. For some people this feels like the right next step in the year and the perfect time to snuggle up on the sofa, watch the TV and eat plenty of soups and stews. For other people however, it is the worst time of the year for them, as they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It is thought that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) stems from a reduction in sunlight on your skin during the winter months. Not only do you try to stay inside more and keep out of the harsh elements where possible, but you also cover up with coats, hats, scarves and gloves. The only place sunlight can penetrate is a small area of your face and this could well be under the brim of a hat.

Some people need more light to function their bodies than others and this could well lead to SAD. Other theories of the occurrence of SAD include reduced serotonin, a brain chemical to control moods; increased melatonin which is a hormone made by the brain when it is dark, or that your body clock is interrupted by your brain due to the reduction in natural light. There are plenty of theories into the causes of SAD but waning sunlight is the most generally accepted one.

Who does Seasonal Affective Disorder affect?

Those who experience SAD feel symptoms of depression in the winter season every single year which can be mild, moderate or severe. These feelings can include being in low spirits, lacklustre, disinterested in day to day life, being less active and sleeping more than normal. In addition it can lead to social issues, alcohol or drug abuse, over-eating and anxiety issues.

These are potentially just day to day feelings for those with SAD who are suffering with this problem. Due to the changes in the seasons, those in Scandinavia, Europe, North America, North Asia, some southern parts of Australia and some parts of South America are most likely be affected with an estimated ten percent of the population in Northern Europe.

Top tips for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Going outside seems obvious, but on days where the weather is not prohibitive, go outside and feel the sunlight on your face. Expose other parts of your body if possible such as arms or legs. Even if you only go out for a short time, this can be helpful to really counteract those bad feelings. However, sunlight does not get stored up and so if you cannot go out tomorrow, those feelings will recur. You can also try taking a Vitamin D supplement for those days when the sun isn’t out.
  • A light box is recommended for those who experience SAD. It is not the same as a normal lamp; it mimics the sunshine and you can shine this onto your face. These used to cost many hundreds of dollars, but now they are priced competitively under a hundred dollars. Some mild to moderate sufferers report that this is literally all they needed to recover from many issues they feel in relation to SAD.
  • St John’s Wort can be effective in mild to moderate cases, but you should not use this in conjunction with a light box due to skin sensitivity. As this is a general mild antidepressant and natural sleep aid product, it may be useful at other times of the year too.

In all cases it is important not to shut yourself off, but to talk to other people about how you are feeling. Whether this is professional intervention or just with friends and family, a problem shared can be a problem halved. Doing this early when you feel you can, might help later if you feel you just can’t.

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Dale is a long-time student of health, fitness, wellness and nutrition. He’s currently working with Well Beings Health and Nutrition Centre in Langley, Canada.