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Everything You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

It was a windy and cold Thursday morning when I decided to wear my trackpants to combat the cold Bath weather. I was horrified to find that the pants almost did not fit me. Horrified, how could I have gained weight in such a brief period? A month ago, when I flew from Lesotho, I had worn the pants, as they are very comfy, and they had loosely hung around my body. My boyfriend had also noticed that I snapped more often than normal, which I credited to the sleeplessness I was experiencing of late. While still trying to figure out my dilemma, a friend mentioned a similar problem. I would have never connected the dots that what we were experiencing had a name and face to it.

As we enter the dark days of November, the days are getting shorter. It is harder to get out of bed due to the crippling cold and our moods have plummeted as a result. However, for some people, this mood drop will be more than occasional irritability.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as “winter depression” is a mood disorder whose exact cause, like many other mood disorders, is not fully known or understood. It is thought that the decrease in sunlight exposure during the winter months disrupts our circadian rhythm, which is our body’s biological clock. This disruption will manifest itself in low mood, insomnia, agitation and feeling lethargic. Alongside this, seasonal changes are also thought to affect the hormone, Melatonin, which plays a vital role in sleep patterns and mood.

The most widely studied neurotransmitter in the brain in relation to depression is 5-hydroxytryptamine, more commonly known as serotonin. As Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of unipolar depression, it is thought that reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin and cause low moods. 

As the main cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is thought to be due to a lack of sunlight, the treatments can be very light-hearted. It is recommended that people with SAD get as much natural sunlight as possible. The obvious implications for this are many who experience low mood and disrupted sleep find it hard to get out of the house and even get out of bed, so this may not always be possible. However, an alternative option is light therapy, which can mimic natural sunlight in therapeutic amounts and can be used from the comfort of one’s home.

Exercise can also be useful to combat SAD. Regular exercise helps to boost mood, sleep quality and stress. Fortunately, the university offers a lot of sports facilities with a wide range of sports to access free of charge. Another effective way is through eating a healthy balanced meal. Research shows that there is a link between what we consume and how we feel. The Eatwell guide on NHS provides further details on how to achieve a healthy balanced meal.

Seasons impacting our moods is normal, therefore it is hard to differentiate between normality and a depressive mood disorder. If you are struggling to complete daily activities because of your feelings, then consider seeing a GP. They may recommend psycho-social treatments to aid in combating the disorder in extreme cases. Make sure to also look out for your friends during these dark, cold months!

For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder and mental health help, visit:

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/

https://www.bath.ac.uk/professional-services/wellbeing-service/

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