Bare trees and frosty mornings truly mark the turning of the seasons and the penultimate end to British summertime. This gruelling transition also comes hand-in-hand with our annual battle with the ‘winter blues’. But, the ‘winter blues’ is not just a yearly phenomenon, rather it is a fully-fledged medical condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly referred to as the ‘winter blues’ or abbreviated to ‘SAD’, is a form of depression that’s related to the changing of seasons. Approximately 1 in 15 people are affected by SAD in the UK. The symptoms of SAD can be particularly severe during December, January, and February.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
The specific causes of SAD are still unclear. However, there are a few theories that suggest the cause of SAD, and why some people may experience more severe symptoms than others:
- The effects of light – When light hits the back of your eye, messages are passed to the part of your brain that controls sleep, sex drive, appetite, mood, temperature and activity. If there’s not enough light, then these functions can slow down and gradually stop. With shorter daylight hours during winter, people with SAD can really suffer from this. Mental health organisation, MIND, note that:
- Low serotonin levels – Your brain uses this chemical to regulate your mood. People who experience depression have been found to have lower levels of the chemical, especially during winter months.
- High melatonin levels – In the dark, your brain produces the hormone, melatonin, which helps you to sleep. When it becomes light, you stop producing melatonin and wake up. People with SAD produce higher levels of melatonin in winter. The same process also happens to animals when they hibernate! However, higher melatonin levels can cause lethargy and symptoms of depression.
“I like to think of Seasonal Affective Disorder as being solar powered – yeah it's pretty rubbish when winter comes around but it's nice to know things improve when the sun comes back.”
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
SAD can start at any age, but it typically starts between 18 and 30. Symptoms usually appear between September and November and continue through until March or April. Common symptoms include:
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Social problems
- Loss of interest in activities
- Loss of libido
- Weakened immune system
How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression.
There are a variety of treatments available to help relieve your symptoms of SAD, these include:
- Light therapy – Light therapy is the first-line treatment used to treat SAD. Light therapy involves sitting in front of, or beneath, a light box that produces a very bright light. It’s thought that the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin and increase the production of serotonin. The light produced stimulates the sunlight that we are missing during the winter months. The Energy Light Box can help to boost your serotonin levels, mood and well-being. Alternatively, try the Beurer Wakeup Lamp that helps you wake up gently and naturally with increasing light; perfect for those dark, winter mornings.
- Vitamin D – The lack of sunlight in the winter months also means that our vitamin D levels suffer. Research has also shown that vitamin D may play an important role in regulating your mood and reducing the risk of developing depression.
- Get active – Exercise can help improve the level of the mood-regulating chemical, serotonin, in the brain.
- Eat well – The winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates, so make sure you remember to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
Start preparing today to ensure that you’re not hit by the winter blues this year!
 Jorde, R., et al (2008) Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Symptoms of Depression in Overweight and Obese Subjects: Randomized Double Blind Trial. Journal of Internal Medicine. 264(6), pp. 599-609.
 Mayo Clinic (2017) Seasonal Affective Disorder [online]. Mayo Clinic [accessed 25/10/2018]. Available from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
 Mental Health Foundation (2018) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) [online]. Mental Health [viewed 25/10/2018]. Available from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
 Mind (2016) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) [online]. Mind [viewed 25/10/2018]. Available from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/causes-of-sad/#.W9G3Fh9KjRZ
 NHS (2018) Do You Have The Winter Blues? [online]. NHS [viewed 25/10/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/winter-blues-sad/
 NHS (2018) Beating the Winter Blues [online]. NHS [viewed 25/10/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/dealing-with-winter-blues-sad/