Are you suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs when depression-related symptoms that appear to be directly related to low levels of sun and daylight are experienced.
SAD is far more likely to affect people living in the northern and southern hemispheres during September to April, especially November to February.
Research studies have demonstrated those living nearer the equator very rarely report symptoms of SAD.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
If you regularly experience a number of the following, specific to the darker months, you may be suffering from SAD:
- lack of energy
- mood swings
- cravings and overeating
- problems sleeping
- increased alcohol or drug use
- social withdrawal
- increased illness
- difficulty concentrating
What causes SAD?
Whilst research is ongoing, the most common reasons are:
Lack of Light
Sunlight passing through our eyes appears to relay messages to your brain that influence overall mood, sleep, appetite and energy levels. Lower levels of sunlight can effectively slow down these receptors within the brain.
Serotonin and melatonin act as chemical messengers to your brain. The mood boosting hormone serotonin has been found to be depleted in people who suffer from SAD. Another hormone, melatonin, is produced in increased volume as sunlight levels fall. Melatonin makes us tired and increases the need to sleep. Sunlight slows down melatonin production.
Our brain regulates its internal body clock using daylight hours. Lower levels of daylight may lead to the body clock slowing down and increasing feelings of depression and tiredness.
My main advice to help avoid or reduce SAD would be to:
Spend more time outdoors
Simply making the most of whatever daylight hours are available is the easiest option. The brighter the light from the sun, the better.
Keeping physically active is well known to boost mood and energy. Activities don’t necessarily have to be strenuous like running/cycling/swimming, etc – even a gentle walk or doing a few jobs around the house can help!
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables and unprocessed foods like meat, fish, nuts, seeds and legumes can help calm cravings for sugary and high carbohydrate foods that SAD can promote. It’s also worth limiting your intake of tea, coffee and alcohol as they tend to increase cravings.
See more of friends and family
At the time of the article's latest update (December 2020) the COVID-19 virus is making this harder to do. However, making best use of a support network (within the government guidelines) can go towards preventing feelings of depression intensifying over time.
Buy a Light Box/SAD Lamp
Light boxes have helped some people by mimicking light from the sun. Look to buy one with at least 2,500 lux.
My other recommendations are:
Vitamin D supplements
The majority of our Vitamin D stores come from sunlight. Taking a Vitamin D supplement can make up for the lack of daylight hours during darker months.
Fish, krill and marine oils can help improve brain function and general mood. If you are not eating 2-3 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, trout and sardines, it’s worth thinking about using a fish oils supplement.
Mood-enhancing hormones produced by your adrenal glands are depleted by stress and depression.
To help combat this, increase your intake of Vitamins B5 (e.g. mushrooms, avocado, sweet potato, lentils, poultry), B6 (e.g. tuna, poultry,beef, green veg, cauliflower) and Vitamin C (e.g. citrus fruits, green veg, bell peppers, papaya, strawberries).
It can be difficult to get enough Vitamin C from the diet if you need a ‘therapeutic dose’. Vitamin C supplements are readily available and are usually good value.
An unhealthy gut can lead to reduced brain function. Probiotics supplements can help increase beneficial bacteria in the gut and keep it healthy – a probiotics supplement, used over a period of a few months, can pay dividends in this area.