What is SAD?

SAD is a cyclic, seasonal condition, which means its symptoms appear during a particular season of the year. It is a form of depression or mood disorder with a seasonal pattern. SAD is generally triggered by the lower light levels of the winter season. Winter‘s short days and long nights may induce feelings of depression, lethargy, fatigue, headaches and sleep problems. SAD is much more serious than just feeling the winter blues. If you have experienced the following symptoms over more than one low light season and you are not aware of other contributing factors, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD:

Disturbed sleep, increased sleep duration
Fatigue and lethargy
Increased appetite and craving for carbohydrates
Mood swings – generally feeling low
Social withdrawal
Decreased libido
Difficulties with concentration

As with any form of depression, mood disorder or physical disorder it is important to check with a qualified medical practitioner in order to establish the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

The symptoms of SAD may begin around September each year and start to subside as light levels improve in the Spring and Summer months depending on the weather and geographic location. SAD is more common in women than in men and most commonly begins between the ages of 18 and 30. It is estimated that approximately 2% of people in Northern Europe are seriously affected, with a further 10% of people experiencing milder symptoms (subsyndromal SAD). The incidence of SAD increases with the distance from the equator.

Subsyndromal SAD or winter blues is a milder, more common related condition which may still be debilitating.
The Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
There are several factors that are believed to affect brain chemistry and induce the symptoms of SAD – they are all related to light. Many of the symptoms can be alleviated by using light and complementary therapies. Researchers have demonstrated that bright light makes a difference to brain chemistry and therefore the lack of it can cause symptoms too.

Research has found that a lack of Serotonin, a brain chemical that seems to be triggered by sunlight, may cause the winter depression. Melatonin, a sleep related hormone, may also be linked to the depression. Disruption of the body’s circadian clock (or internal body clock) located in one of the most primitive areas of the brain is also believed to cause problems with our mood. There is more detail on circadian rhythm sleep disorders in the information section on Sleep under Relax button.
believed to cause problems with our mood. There is more detail on circadian rhythm sleep disorders in the information section on Sleep under Relax button.

Alleviating Symptoms

It is not possible for us all to migrate south during the winter months to lessen the symptoms of SAD we may be suffering from. However, in 75% of sufferers light therapy is found to be very effective. The following simple methods, followed regularly can be of help:

Try to go outside whenever there is natural sunlight; taking a walk is excellent for changing the mood and increasing energy levels.
If you suffer every year from the symptoms of SAD make sure that you arrange your holidays during these months and spend as much time as you can in a sunnier climate during the winter.
Ensure your sleeping patterns are well-established during the summer months so that the positive habits are in place when your body clock becomes ‘out of sync’ during the winter. The Sunrise System can help you to do this so that you look forward to the relaxation of a good night’s sleep. See the section on Sleep Patterns under Relax button.
Complementary therapies in conjunction with light therapy can be effective. Massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture are worth considering. Always go to an accredited and recommended practitioner; your Doctor may be able to refer you. There are some simple relaxation techniques in the section on Sleep Patterns under Relax button.
Daily exposure to bright light (between 1 and 4 hours) is known to be helpful. The light has to be much more intense than ordinary domestic light and specially designed light boxes for this purpose are available. The intensity of light required is usually set at 2500 lux.

For further and more detailed information on SAD why not visit the MIND charity website where  you can download or request a comprehensive leaflet entitled, ‘Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder’.

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