SAD could be the reason why you’re feeling low at this time of year

You’ve had your Pumpkin Spice Latte, you’ve purchased a gingerbread house that will inevitably collapse for the fifth year running and you’re circling the Argos catalogue with what you want for Christmas (do kids still do that?). Oh, and don’t forget to post a photo with the caption #autumnalvibes to Instagram with a coffee in hand and the brown, crispy leaves in the background. But whilst this time of year brings joy for some, for others it can bring a feeling of hopelessness, self-doubt and misery as they struggle to adapt to the changes this season brings – officially recognised as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Sophie Buchan explains…

What Causes SAD?

Whilst the condition isn’t fully understood, it’s often linked to a lack of exposure to sunlight which occurs during the colder season where mornings and nights get darker quicker, and for longer. Also referred to as ‘winter depression’, SAD can have a profound impact on an individual’s wellbeing affecting not only their day-to-day activities but their work too. During this time, the body’s internal clock changes. Sunlight usually indicates when you should be awake and when you should be asleep meaning lower levels of exposure to sunlight can disrupt your natural body clock. For some, they notice small changes like getting out of bed is made more difficult than usual but for others it can be severe. This form of depression, like any other, should be treated by your GP if you feel it is impacting your life in any way and whilst there is no cure, there are ways to help you manage it.

Kiran Singh, Lifestyle & Mindfulness Coach says: “People with SAD experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression which occurs every year at the same time, usually starting in Autumn, getting worse during Winter, and then ending during Spring. SAD may begin at any age but it typically starts when a person is between ages 18 and 30 and is more common in people living far from the equator where there are fewer daylight hours in the winter. It can be effectively treated in a number of ways, including light therapy, antidepressant medications, talk therapy or a combination of these. For some people, increased exposure to sunlight can help improve symptoms of SAD. For example, spending time outside so that you are exposed to sunlight during the day. Taking care of your general health and wellness can also help – regular exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and staying active and connected (such as volunteering, participating in group activities and getting together with friends and family) can also help.”

What Can SAD Feel Like?

You may find it strange that this happens but it’s more common than you think – around 1 in 10 people suffer from this form of depression and may not even be aware of it. Caitlyn Mcgrory from Glasgow began experiencing symptoms at the age of 12 but wasn’t aware of them until she was 15. She says: “I believe there needs to be more awareness of this type of depression. I tried to commit suicide twice because of it. I felt depressed from September through January and never knew why, I then came across an article and it all made sense to me. Sometimes it’s really hard as during the times I face these symptoms I’m unmotivated, I don’t dress well or wear make-up or put in effort with my appearance.”
“I sleep to avoid life, ignore texts which can sometimes make it hard to focus as I feel empty. My family didn’t react well and said I was making it up which made it worse. Friends have been great but my fiancé was the best help. He helped me get out of a pit and regain my life. He really helped me to understand it and to live with it.”
Harkinss Fee from Stirling felt the same. She said: “I had symptoms before I knew what SAD was. I hate the dark mornings and nights and feel lazier and more tired than I do in the Summer. I read an article about the condition and realised it was me. My mood can drop dramatically and I just want to sleep all the time. I struggle to wake up and even if I’ve slept for a good eight hours, I’m still tired. I also feel less positive about things in general so tend to not do anything. My productivity at work can go down and I get extremely bored. I’ve started meditation and yoga in order to help me deal with these symptoms. I think people believe SAD is just an excuse for laziness – but that’s not true .”

If you believe you have SAD, please seek professional advice by visiting your GP.