Winter isn’t everyone’s favourite season. The long, cold days and nights can leave people feeling tired and depressed. If these low feelings continue for weeks on end, then you may be a sufferer of SAD or seasonal affective disorder as it is otherwise known.
Seasonal affective disorder is categorised as a series of symptoms which tend to appear during the winter months, usually between September and April, with the worst of the symptoms appearing around December, January and February.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD symptoms can include feelings of lethargy and tiredness, sleep problems and mood swings. Mild symptoms can include feelings of anxiety and a loss of libido. In severe cases, SAD can lead to depression. The symptoms usually last throughout the winter season and can cause all kinds of problems for sufferers.
According to SADA (The Season Affective Disorder Association), “SAD occurs throughout the northern and southern hemispheres, but is extremely rare amongst those who live within 30 degrees of the Equator.”
The disorder is caused by a lack of sunlight exposure in the northern and southern hemispheres during the winter months. The sun is a source of natural energy and lack of sunlight causes all kinds of problems. All living beings need light to grow and flourish, but when deprived of light, the body cannot fully grow to its potential. This is because sunlight impacts the body’s rhythms and it contains Vitamin D, which helps the body to absorb vitamins and minerals more readily, essential for growth and production of healthy cells.
Vitamin D, for humans, is obtained from sun exposure, food and supplements. However, only a small amount is actually required, as the body can store Vitamin D for long periods of time.
One of the ways in which people suffer from seasonal affective disorder is through feeling irritable or having low mood swings. A lack of sunshine can alter mood because it impacts serotonin, a hormone manufactured in the brain. The sun can help trigger the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which can spur a sense of increased well-being and happiness.
Treatments for SAD
The severity of your SAD symptoms will determine which treatments you may want to consider. One of the most effective treatments is light treatment. You can buy a range of light boxes which mimic the effects of natural light, thereby combating SAD symptoms and increasing the feelings of well-being. Place one on your desk at work or by your bedside table and you will start to feel the effects that its light can bring. It can be beneficial to have the light by your bed, as it can help re-energise you for the day ahead.
Another option to help boost well-being during the winter is to eat plenty of serotonin-boosting foods such as bananas, tomatoes, broccoli and whole grains such as oats, which can be readily eaten in a porridge, for example. All of these foods will provide a natural boost.
There is considerable evidence that a healthy immune system and serotonin are related. The majority of your immune system and your serotonin lie in the gut. The healthier your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the healthier your immune system. The healthier your immune system, the more serotonin you’ll have.
Exercise is also a great way to feel good and boost serotonin levels, thereby helping to ease feelings of a low mood or depression. When we exercise, our bodies move and our heart has to work harder to pump the oxygen around the body. Exercise can help to boost serotonin levels in the brain, leading to an increased sense of happiness and well-being.
There is evidence that exercise can also help to improve your mental health. If your seasonal affective disorder is severe and you have gone through all the treatments available, you may want to consider seeking assistance from a medical professional.