What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that you experience during particular seasons or times of the year. Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your everyday life.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
If you have SAD, you might experience some of the signs and symptoms below. But it's different for different people, and can vary season to season, so you might also have other kinds of feelings which aren't listed here:
· lack of energy, feeling lethargic.
· finding it hard to concentrate
· not wanting to see people.
· sleep problems, such as sleeping more or less than usual, difficulty waking up, or difficulty falling or staying asleep.
· feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless
· changes in your appetite, for example, feeling hungrier or wanting more snacks.
· being more prone to physical health problems, such as colds, infections, or other illnesses
· losing interest in sex or physical contact
· other symptoms of depression.
What causes SAD?
The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it's often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.
The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly, which may affect the:
production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD
Things you can try yourself.
Winter SAD – Practical day-to-day tips
If SAD affects you during winter, there are particular things you could try that might help. You could:
· Make the most of natural light. It might help to spend time in natural light, for example going for walks, spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window. This seems to be helpful if you experience SAD in winter.
· Plan ahead for winter. For example, try to make meals in advance and freeze them if you know you are likely to lack the energy to do this during the most difficult period.
Summer SAD – Practical day-to-day tips
If SAD affects you during hot weather, there are particular things you could try that might help. You could:
Drink plenty of water so that you stay hydrated. See our page on food and mood for more information.
Look for ways to get shade, such as wearing wide-brimmed hats or sunglasses.
Visit indoor places. Staying inside all the time could make you feel isolated. It could help to try doing activities indoors, like visiting your local library or going to the cinema.
Plan ahead for summer. For example, try to avoid going outside at the hottest times of day where possible.
There are many simple things you can try that may help improve your symptoms, including:
try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial.
Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible.
Sit near windows when you're indoors.
take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight – read more about exercise for depression,
eat a healthy, balanced diet
if possible, avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress
It can also be helpful to talk to your family and friends about SAD so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. This can help them to support you more effectively.
Support and information
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
0800 58 58 58