There are around two million sufferers of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in the UK. Symptoms can range from mild feelings of gloom, the need for more sleep and carbohydrate cravings to more severe symptoms such as full-blown depression, weight gain and difficulty concentrating.
Why do people get SAD?
During the night, the pineal gland produces a substance called melatonin which makes us drowsy. At dawn, the bright light causes the gland to stop producing this melatonin. On dull winter days, especially indoors, not enough light is received to trigger this waking up process.
Our lives no longer revolve around daylight and dusk, we have interfered with our body’s natural rhythms with electric light. our biological clocks, however, are still telling us we need to sleep more.
How can I prevent SAD?
The nice answer is to rest more! Work during daylight hours and rest and sleep the rest of the time. Unfortunately, this natural pattern no longer fits in with the demands of modern life. We have families to look after, houses to run, jobs to go to and hectic social lives to attend to.
However, the following may help:
1- natural light
If your symptoms are mild, spending more time outdoors might be all you need. Incorporate more walking and cycling into your daily routine, spend your lunch hour outside and take a walk outside rather than going to a gym.
Indoors, place your desk near a window and pull back the curtains as soon as it gets light in the morning. Keep your windows clean and cut back any overhanging branches to allow as much light as possible to enter your home or place of work.
Exercise is good for our health in many ways. If you suffer from SAD, then make sure you have some good habits in place before your symptoms strike. Try and walk outdoors every day around midday and if you exercise indoors, try and get next to a window.
3- Natural remedies
Some sufferers find relief from symptoms of depression and SAD by using St.Johns Wort. St John’s Wort is a herb that has been used for centuries. Used correctly, it is safe and helpful, but there are contra indications. St. John’s wort should not be taken by women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breast feeding. In addition, St Johns Wort can react with other medication so get advise from a health care practitioner.
4- Light boxes
Modern lightboxes are small, portable and effective. Some require just 20 minutes use per day. If you’re concerned about splashing out on something that may not work, then you can hire them for a month. If you need help getting up on a dark morning, then why not try a dawn simulating alarm clock? It’s best to start using these at the beginning of September, before SAD symptoms arise.
5- Talking therapies
If SAD is leaving you with persistent low mood, loss of pleasure in activities that once excited you or you are feeling worthless, guilt or despair, then talking therapies can help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you change the way you think, behave and feel. Counselling can be particularly helpful to get all your worries out in the open and to get some perspective on the things that are happening in your life.
SAD is sometimes referred to as ‘Winter Depression’, and NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommend it is treated as such with the use of antidepressants if your symptoms are particularly severe. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the preferred type of antidepressant for treating SAD. You need to be aware that they can take a few weeks to take full effect, so if SAD is a condition you’re used to, be sure to visit your GP a couple of months before you get symptoms.
What about you. Do you suffer from SAD? What do you find helps you most?