It’s been a few weeks now since the clocks went back an hour, making any time post 4pm feel like someone well and truly turned the switch off on ‘summer’ – and it’s making us feel pretty SAD.
We get up. It’s dark. We get home. It’s dark. The sun goes to sleep pretty much 6 hours before we do, but we’re expected to carry on as normal? That doesn’t sound fair.
And, while the thought of winter is (oddly) appealing for some, is anyone actually excited by the fact that, very soon, the only way we’ll see daylight will be through our office windows?
WHAT IS SAD?
In layman’s terms, Seasonal Affective Disorder (read: SAD) is the pretty miserable feeling we get once the glorious summer sunshine we (occasionally) get, goes into hiding for another six plus months. And guess what, there are a whole host of ‘symptoms’.
While some symptoms are pretty understandable, such as low energy levels and signs of fatigue, the darker, colder months of the year have also proven to have an affect on appetite, weight and self esteem!
The symptoms of SAD often begin in the autumn, as the days start getting shorter, however typically become most severe in December, January and February. During the spring and summer symptoms pretty much disappear, but more than likely without fail, will return each autumn and winter in a repetitive pattern.
Some people will be reluctant to believe the weather can affect their behaviour, but a previous study in 2014 found that around one in three people in the UK suffer from SAD. To be specific, the study said 29 per cent of adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder in one way or another.
So, if you feel like your productivity levels are dropping during the day and you’d rather be binge-watching shows on Netflix (while binge-eating your way through the entire contents of your fridge at the same time) than doing anything else, you’re not alone.
While the exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, the condition is often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight. The main theory being that a lack of sunlight can actually prevent one part of the brain, the hypothalamus, from working properly. In turn, this can affect a number of the body’s important processes.
Melatonin is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, whereas serotonin is the hormone that affects your mood (and appetite); the production process of both of these hormones are said to be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s not uncommon for people suffering from SAD to produce melatonin in higher than normal levels, while a lack of sunlight can lead to lower serotonin levels.
On top of this, the weather can also mess with your body clock. Your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, therefore less sunlight can disrupt your circadian rhythm, adding to potential symptoms of SAD.
HOW TO COMBAT SAD
SAD can be experienced in a multitude of ways, with the nature and severity of different individuals’ symptoms ranging greatly. While The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression, not everyone will need GP treatment.
Mild symptoms of SAD could quite easily be combated if we could simply move a little closer to the equator six months of the year, however for most of us, this isn’t really an option.
Therefore, the trusty NHS has come up with a few easy things we can do to try and improve our SAD symptoms ourselves.
1. Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial.
2. Make your work and home environments as light and airy as you can, sitting near windows when indoors if possible.
3. Get plenty of regular exercise – if it’s in daylight and outdoors, even better!