Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that usually occurs in the winter months although it can start as early as September in some cases. Milder forms of the condition are often described as the “winter blues.” Sufferers can experience loss of energy and general depression along with problems sleeping, feeling anxious, general irritability, increased appetite, strong cravings for carbohydrates and sweet foods, and experience headaches, muscle and joint pain and in severe cases, can have suicidal thoughts. The condition can affect people of any age and gender although is most common in females and can have a profound effect on a person’s personal and professional life. SAD may even be hereditary. Many sufferers tell of a parent or relative who suffers or has suffered from the disorder.

SAD can also affect children who show symptoms of decline in academic achievements resulting in a loss of desire to take part in activities, especially sports, memory impairment, poor organizational skills and difficulty in writing. Children suffering from SAD may also show behavioural difficulties such as:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends;
  • Crying spells;
  • Temper tantrums;
  • A tendency to watch a lot of television without retaining what they have seen.

SAD is more prevalent in northern parts of the world and seems to develop from inadequate light. Researchers have discovered that bright light changes the chemicals in the brain but just how this occurs and the details of its effects are still ongoing. They do know however that lack of light produces Melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone which reduces the production of Serotonin – a “feel good” chemical resulting in the above and many other symptoms. The disorder as far as I can ascertain, was first recognised only as recently as 1985.

While it’s unfortunate that people who suffer from the disorder have in the past through a lack of knowledge and/or understanding been told to “pull their socks up” or “get over it” the good news is that treatment is widely available now. If symptoms are severe, know that help is at hand and don’t suffer in silence. The first step is to seek professional help as you may need, and could benefit greatly from antidepressants. If your symptoms are milder, you can also benefit from a difference in lifestyle. Try spending more time outdoors and sitting near windows. A good breakfast is also important and foods containing Vitamin D such as fish (especially wild salmon and mackerel), chicken, cod liver oil, milk, eggs and fresh vegetables (chickpeas and spinach should be high on the list) will help greatly. Try also to eat at regular intervals and not to make do with fast foods no matter how busy your day is.

Another source of help can be found in light therapy boxes which can be used at home or the office and dawn simulators are proving to be highly effective in giving the feeling of waking up on a bright summer’s morning on the darkest of winter days, thereby giving rise to a gentler wakeup and feeling of wellbeing.

Taking regular exercise also is important. It’s been said that there is no such thing as “bad weather”, only “bad clothes” so bear that in mind. Equipped with the proper clothing (and attitude), a walk on a windswept beach in the middle of January or snow covered hills can be just as invigorating as a walk through a meadow full of flowers in the height of summer. Don’t forget all those books you have meant to read either. Get warm, comfortable and open page 1 or put on your favourite music. Life is for living – not just in spring and summer but for the entire year – live it!