Seasonal Affective disorder is a kind of depression caused by seasonal changes. Depression typically, can last throughout a year or more. But in cases where symptoms appear only during certain seasons, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Depending on the severity, the condition can affect people’s mental health in several ways – according to Dr Mark Winwood, clinical lead for mental health services at AXA Health. Prevailing symptoms include constant low mood and energy levels, anhedonia – lack of pleasure or enjoyment in daily activities, irritability, poor concentration and perpetual feeling of sadness leading to feeling guilty, worthlessness and hopelessness.
A severe level of symptoms may include loss of interest and motivation to engage in social interaction and physical contact.
Dr Daniel Cichi of Doctor4U, also explained how people struggling with SAD might be experiencing sleeping problems for an extended period. You tend to sleep more than you normally do; and because you’re less active and less social, increased appetite and weight gain tend to set in.
Why people develop seasonal affective disorder isn’t fully known but it is likely that some factors might be contributing to why certain people are more predisposed to the influence of seasonal changes in a year. According to Cichi, prolonged darkness during winter months, dull days and early dark nights often alters the human body clock (circadian rhythms). They also increase melatonin, sleep hormone and reduce serotonin (pleasure hormone). These contributory factors lead to depression, altogether.
This year’s Winter
This year, things could be harder for people struggling with seasonal affective disorder due to the additionally complicated stress and uncertainty that the COVID-19 has brought along with it. Frankly, now that more people are working from home, isolated and locked indoors for long periods, that implies decreased exposure to sunlight. Obviously many people are already seeing the blue (depressed) because of the pandemic and lockdowns and that alone can cause seasonal depression – worsening the symptoms than how it used to be in the past.
Winwood attests to the fact that many are finding life very challenging and uncertain about how their future is going to be and are afraid of losing their families to the pandemic. However, as we improvise by having social interaction in smaller circles and also cancel or disregard those winter adventures and outings we usually look forward to, it is unavoidable that we’ll be experiencing heightened risk of mental health problems like depression, anxiety and so on.
However, whether you’re struggling with chronic SAD or feeling gloomy than usual during this time of the year, there are certain positive things that can help you boost your mood and feel better.
Get natural sunlight.
Remote working may make you miss out on the hours of the day which consequently affects your mood on the long run. So, ensure that you take breaks and get plenty of sunlight as much as possible because you need this. You can take walks during lunch periods, or even setting up your work space in a place where you’re directly exposed to sunlight, not to sunburn, though.
The essence of this emphasis is that sunlight energy affects our circadian rhythm and allows us to sleep soundly at night.
Ensure you sleep well
Getting sufficient sleep each day is very crucial for good mental and emotional wellbeing. Cutting down on psychoactive substances like caffeine, alcohol and others and also limiting time spent on the screen before bed is effective if you’re having problems with sleep (insomnia).
Exercise your body
Exercise doesn’t only boost your health mentally, but also boost your immune system. In periods when it’s cold and dark, getting work out exercises is good as that might be the next best thing you want to do. Doing moderate exercise that lasts between 20 to 25 minutes can increase your heart rate which will make you feel more confident, energetic and happier afterwards.
More importantly, making time for physical activity as a part of your daily schedule the same way healthy habits are incorporated into your daily routine, can make your day purposeful and structured which is one of the things you need during times like this.
Watch your diet
Obviously, what we eat largely affects our mental wellbeing as well as our physical health. Thus, it is necessary that we pay more attention to the kinds of foods we consume now than ever. Canned foods are usually high in sugar and tend to alter your energy and mood levels. So, it is advisable that you include healthier options in your menu.
Healthy foods that can benefit your serotonin secretion are very good. Some of them are nuts, egg whites, vegetables, fruits, cottage cheese and many others. But more importantly, try to live more on green foods.
Stay connected with everyone
In times like this, staying connected with friends, families and colleagues can be daunting. But, maintaining connection with our loved ones can ease feeling lonely and isolated.
You can stay connected with family and friends by making dates for “small meetings” with them. These meetings may be via phone call, video call, or through catch-ups (if allowed in your area and observing the rules). Having good connections with friends and families is key to having positive mental wellbeing and happiness.
Seeking help isn’t what you should avoid if your symptoms are overwhelming. A GP can be spoken to about how you’re feeling. In addition to living an active and healthy lifestyle, you may actually need to treat SAD as an underlying problem occurring during certain seasons. Seasonal affective disorder may be treated the same way depression and other mental health problems are treated. You can ask for therapy or may be prescribed medication, but an effective treatment for SAD is light therapy.
Light therapy replicates natural sunlight power that is lacking in the winter seasons and helps to boost a person’s mood and sleep by decreasing melatonin and enhancing serotonin. Don’t hesitate to consult your doctor if you have concerns about supports available to you.
According to Winwood, the solution to mental health and wellbeing isn’t one-size-fit-all; you own your health and you have the responsibility to nourish and give it the best it deserves.