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So what actually is seasonal affective disorder?

If you hate winter, or even if you’re not immune to the charms of the season, you might find yourself feeling a little low around this time of year. Short, damp days and dark, cold nights will do that to a girl.

However, beyond the winter blues, you might have heard of something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Yep, it’s really known as SAD, which might be the most appropriate name for a condition EVER.

Some of us are definitely guilty of throwing the term around without a diagnosis, using it to describe the winter grumps, but what actually is SAD? Do you really have it? And, if you do, how can you help shift it before spring? Read on to find out…

What is seasonal affective disorder?

SAD is a form of depression that is affected by the seasons. It generally occurs in the winter months, improves or completely disappears in spring and summer, and can often return again the next autumn/winter.

What causes SAD?

It’s thought that the reduced hours of sunlight in autumn and winter mean that the body can’t produce as much serotonin, which is a mood-affecting hormone, and lower levels can lead to feelings of depression. In addition to this, the lack of sunlight may result in your body producing more melatonin, a hormone that makes you tired. Not a great combination.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

As with other forms of depression, SAD’s symptoms include regular low moods and irritability, a lack of energy, sleeping a lot more than usual and a loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy. You might also experience major carbohydrate cravings as your body tries to look for serotonin elsewhere.

How is it diagnosed?

SAD is tricky to diagnose due to its similarities to other types of depression. Generally your doctor will carry out a psychological assessment by asking you questions about your mood, recent behaviour and lifestyle. Sometimes they will also carry out a physical examination, but usually a SAD diagnosis can only truly be confirmed if you present the same symptoms at the same time of year, for two or more years in a row.

How do you treat SAD?

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor will most likely prescribe cognitive behavioural therapy, antidepressants or light therapy as treatment, after investigating how severe your SAD is. These methods of treatment can often be used together to achieve the best results.

Out with your doctor’s prescriptions, getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and eating healthily may all improve your mood and help manage your SAD symptoms.

Where can I find out more information on SAD?

The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association and the NHS both have loads of information available on SAD. As always, if you think you may be suffering, speak to your doctor and they will prescribe the most effective method of treatment for you. There’s no need to suffer alone.

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Image: Amber Griffin

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