Seasonal Affective Disorder hits up to a third of UK adults each year, but there’s often little mentioned about it in the media.

What is SAD?

Also known as the winter blues, it’s a type of mild to moderate depression that can affect us during the autumn and winter months. It’s thought to be caused by a fall in serotonin levels due to reduced sunlight.

The lack of light can force us to change our routines…. like drawing the curtains and switching the lights on earlier in the evenings and generally having less daylight in which to go about our daily business.

Our sleep is often affected, which can leave us feeling lethargic with less energy. This is exacerbated when the clocks change (something to look forward to on Sunday 31st October!).

Why the clocks ‘fall’ back

Unlike in the spring, on the last Sunday in October, we will effectively have one hour more in bed, the idea being that the mornings will be brighter, and the evenings darker. This marks the end of British Summertime, with earliest sunset occurring in December, after which, we’ll start to get more daylight back in our lives.

Originating back to the early 1900s, daylight saving time has been debated and challenged over the years with convincing arguments on both sides, and in 2019, the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to scrap it. But this has yet to happen, and there’s no sign of this happening any time soon here in the UK.

SAD symptoms

For many, it’s just feeling a bit ‘meh’, when you can’t really put your finger on the reason why you just don’t have your usual mojo, but you just don’t feel inspired or sociable. But for some, the low mood feeling can drag on for days or weeks, and you start to recognise the signs each autumn when the leaves start to change colour, the nights start drawing in earlier, and the central heating timer is set once again. Low energy can also trigger weight gain as you look around for a pick-me-up and reach for your favourite carbs.

Research has shown that the worst months are December, January and February and that more women suffer from SAD than men, the exact reason for this is not unknown, but it could be related to hormonal fluctuations. You’re also more likely to be affected by it if you’re a city dweller rather than living in the countryside. The reason for this is likely to be linked to how much time is spent outdoors and the prevalence of artificial lighting.

So, what can you do?

Here’s our top tips for beating Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Exercise – getting out and about – walking, swimming or cycling can all get your heart rate up and make you feel more motivated whilst boosting your serotonin and dopamine levels.
  • Socials – treat yourself and a friend to a pumpkin-spiced latte, it’s always a good idea to talk and listen to friends. Consider joining an evening class or group to help you extend your day, the extra activity may help restore your natural sleep pattern too.
  • SAD lamps – these aim to replace the natural light from sunshine and can help regulate your sleep and wake patterns, resulting in a brighter mood.
  • Serotonin or vitamin D supplements – serotonin supplements claim to help boost your energy (always read the label). We simply don’t know if vitamin D by itself can help with SAD, however, we do know that we receive less of the vitamin essential for calcium to maintain bone health when there is insufficient direct light from natural sunshine.
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