There are many different types of depression, some are worse than others. Depression is a common type of mental health issue and one that many of us suffer with. It’s not just something you can get over or something that is ‘put on’ it can take a lot of time to try and pull through them depressive episodes.
But have you ever wondered why, you might feel more gloomy and upset when the weather begins to get worse, this is a type of depression and it’s called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) it can come and go in a seasonal pattern.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
It can sometimes be known as ‘winter depression’ or ‘seasonal depression’ because most of the time it is highly likely that the symptoms will be more apparent in the winter months. But it can work the other way round, were some people may feel worse during summer and then better during winter.
It may be that you feel affected when the seasons change and the weather, or there could be particular times in the year when you feel less or more comfortable. This could be that you find your mood or energy levels dropping when it gets colder or warmer, or you notice that you’re sleeping to much or your eating patterns change.
If you open the curtains when your alarm goes off, you feel more motivated to get up and go out and do what you need to do, but when it’s winter and it’s still dark when you’ve got to wake up, it makes you feel like just staying in bed and can make you feel sluggish.
Like anything to do with mental health, their are always a list of symptoms that sometimes are very similar. Looking out for these can make it easier for you to figure out if that’s what you have. Here are a few symptoms to look out for: a persistent low mood, one that literally continues day in day out and doesn’t seem to get better. You may start to feel like you have a loss of interest within something that you really enjoy doing and your just don’t feel like doing your usual everyday activities.
A sudden feeling of despair, guilt or worthlessness could be another sign that you’re depressed or suffer with SAD especially when the seasons change. It’s safe to say that when the winter months hit, there’s nothing better than eating loads of yummy foods and keeping warm. But actually craving carbohydrates and gaining weight is a sign of seasonal affective disorder. Feeling unbelievably tired and sleeping the day away, is a sign of having seasonal depression, due to it being a lot darker.
What causes SAD?
The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder has not fully been confirmed, but it’s often linked to a reduced amount of time in the sunlight, during the shorter autumn and winter months. The lack of sunlight could possibly affect the part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly. If this part of the brain is affected it could stop the production of melatonin, this is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; with people who suffer with SAD, the body could produce it higher than normal.
It can affect the body’s internal clock, your body uses the sunlight it gets to time various important functions, such as waking up in the morning, so the lower the light levels during winter may disrupt your body clock and this could lead to symptoms of seasonal depression.
Treatments for SAD
There are a range of treatments available, if you feel like you could suffer with SAD than it’s best to talk to your GP so they can recommend the best possible treatment programme for you. Common treatments include: lifestyle measures, this means getting as much natural sunlight as you possibly can, as well as taking up an exercise routine and figuring out ways to manage stress levels.
Light therapy is something that includes a special lamp called a light box, which is used to stimulate exposure to sunlight. You can actually purchase these, so you can do them at home. But it’s best to tell your GP you’re using it before doing so. Talking therapies, like cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling will be used to help you come to terms with it and help you find the best possible ways to overcome it. There may be a possibility of being prescribed antidepressant medication, in this case something called selective serotonin reputake inhibitors.
Ways to help cope with seasonal affective disorder
There are a few ways you can help yourself try and feel better when having to deal with this type of depression, it may be something you hear all the time, but exercise is so important and people just don’t tend to realise it. It doesn’t have to be extreme, take up to much time or push you way over your limit. A daily walk, perhaps mid afternoon could be as helpful as a light treatment as you’ll be getting the light that you need and you’ll be getting fit whilst you do it.
Getting outside is so beneficial especially with those who struggle with SAD, get some natural daylight if you don’t feel like going out you can make changes in your home, by choosing pale colours that reflect light from outside, or sit near windows whenever you can.
There’s nothing better than getting in from a cold wintery day and getting in your cosy pyjamas and keeping warm. Being cold can actually make you feel more depressed, so keeping warm is essential. Drink hot drinks, eat hot food. Wear warm clothes, shoes and aim to keep your home cosy and warm.
Eat healthily, a healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over the winter months. Rather than constantly wanting carbs, try and incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables.
Keep your mind active with perhaps a new hobby, could help you think about other things and if it’s something that takes up a good amount of time and makes you feel good, then that’s a bonus. Socialising with your family and friends can help you feel better and distract you.
If you feel like the symptoms are getting worse and you’re becoming more depressed as time goes on, the best thing to do is reach out and speak to someone. Whether that’s your GP, a counsellor or a support group!