It’s well-accepted that people tend to drink and eat more around Christmas, some not doing so because it makes them feel good. Alcohol and mental health issues can rise up during the winter months, disappearing when summer comes.
This may not just be a quirk of personality but could be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is believed that SAD affects 2 million people in the UK and many might not be aware that they are suffering from it.
If you are concerned, it can be helpful to know the symptoms, how to deal with seasonal affective disorder and support options are available.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is also known as “winter depression”. It’s a type of depression that is different from forms you may be more familiar with as it is related to changes in the season – normally being more severe in the winter.
If you suffer from SAD, symptoms may begin to appear in the autumn and be at their worst in winter before fading by the time summer comes around. On the other hand, some people feel fine in the winter and feel more depressed in the summer.
The reduced sunlight during winter can be a cause of SAD as melatonin and serotonin levels can drop, affecting your mood and sleep patterns. Your circadian rhythm can also be disrupted, leading to symptoms of depression.
An onset of SAD can worsen issues such as drug abuse or alcoholism, or perhaps lead you to start self-medicating. This is known as dual diagnosis and can make an addiction issue more serious, leading to a more complicated recovery process.
Signs and Symptoms of SAD
When seeking help for seasonal affective disorder, it’s good to know how it presents in a person to figure out if you have it.
Symptoms can be physical, emotional and behavioural and include:
- Change in sleeping pattern
- Suicidal feelings
- Social isolation
- Lack of energy
- Struggling to concentrate
- Appetite changes
- Feeling hopeless and worthless
- More agitated
Self-Help Strategies for Managing SAD
If you are not coping with SAD over the winter months, there are some adjustments you can make to your life to start turning things around. With some simple life changes you can improve your mental well-being and alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
These strategies are not only useful for managing SAD symptoms but can help you if you are suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues or just want to take better care of yourself during winter.
Having SAD may mean you have trouble getting to sleep or waking up in the morning. Making a schedule for yourself can help alleviate SAD. Keeping a regular sleeping schedule improves sleep and helps you be exposed to light consistently. Regular meal times can stop you from over-indulging, making you feel healthier and better about yourself.
Winter means less light outside. Your days may mean hours indoors, staring at a screen so it is important to get out and feel that natural light. Even on a cloudy day, you can get the benefit of nature and the natural light on offer. If you find yourself stuck indoors, make sure those blinds are open and as much natural light is getting in to ensure you’re not sitting in the dark.
Regular physical activity helps with any form of depression. Exercise improves your sleep, keeps you healthy and improves your mental well-being. The best form of exercise is to get outside if you can so you get the benefit of natural light. Exercise, even if it is just a short walk, can help you take your mind off things that are worrying you.
Eating a nutritional and balanced diet will ensure your body is functioning as well as it can. A good diet will help you feel more energised and drinking water keeps you hydrated. Dehydration can leave you feeling fatigued and depressed, with your body losing some efficiency.
Coping with SAD can make you lonely. To combat feelings of isolation, it’s important to reach out to others. Socialising can come in many forms – meeting up for coffee, engaging in a hobby with a group, or going for a walk with a friend. A good social network will help you feel more connected to the world and show you that there are people you can reach out to if you are struggling.
Professional Treatments for SAD
If at-home strategies are not enough, there are plenty of seasonal affective disorder treatment options available.
CBT for SAD
Talking therapies such as CBT, help deal with SAD. This type of therapy is based on looking at how the way you think and behave affects how you feel. During these sessions, you will start to break out of negative thought patterns and learn how to cope better in situations.
Light therapy for SAD doesn’t mean doing a little bit of therapy. As lack of light can impact SAD, light therapy means that you spend around 30 minutes a day in front of a special light called a lightbox that is meant to simulate sunlight. The hope is that exposure to this light will encourage your body to produce melatonin and serotonin to help improve your mood and regulate your sleep better.
If your SAD is severe enough then medication may be prescribed. SSRIs are usually chosen to treat SAD as they help increase serotonin levels in your brain. As antidepressants can take weeks to become effective, they should start to be taken before symptoms kick in during the winter and continue to be taken until spring.
Vitamin D Supplementation
A vitamin D deficiency can mean that your body produces less serotonin. Supplementing your diet with vitamins can help your body produce more serotonin, improving your mood.
SAD Support Resources
If you need help for seasonal affective disorder, there are resources out there. It’s important to reach out to people who understand the condition and can help you feel less alone in your struggle.
Your GP can point you in the direction of local community services and support groups. Other resources include:
- Local Minds
- Depression UK
- Rethink Mental Illness
If you have an addiction and have just left rehab then organisations like us at Asana Lodge offer aftercare plans. These involve encouraging you to attend group support meetings. During these sessions, you can get support on SAD and offer issues you may be facing.
Get Help with SAD Today
If you are suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, like SAD, then it is important to get help. Asana Lodge is a rehab centre that can help you achieve long-term recovery by delivering personalised addiction treatment.Back to all posts