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Do you suffer from SAD

seasonal affective disorder - SAD

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Seasonal affective disorder

As winter approaches and the nights draw in it is natural to feel a little down that the bright days of summer are at an end.  Whilst for most people the story ends there, for some the affect of the onset of winter can spark a subtle physiological reaction in the body, and emotional and mental changes that characterise Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD.

Very little is yet known about the disorder, but research has identified that regular exposure to bright light alters chemicals in the brain.  The absence of the bright stimulus changes the chemical balance in an individual, and in some it triggers other reactions in the mind and body.

One theory is that exposure to sunlight gives our bodies vitamin D, and scientists have shown that a shortfall in the presence of this chemical is associated with higher occurrences of SAD and other depressive disorders.  The fact that SAD is seldom reported in areas within 30 degrees of the Equator, where day and sunlight hours are longer and more constant, would support this.  Why the disorder affects some more than others, however, is unknown.

When a person suffers from SAD, the symptoms will usually start sometime between September and November, and continue until Spring comes in March/April time.  There is no particular age at which the disorder is most prevalent, but the main age band within which onset of SAD occurs is between 18 and 30 years of age.

The symptoms of SAD vary, but usually include the following signs:

  • Depression – this manifests as a general and persistent low mood, with negative thoughts and feelings.  Sufferers may feel hopeless and in despair, and guilt and low self-esteem can enhance these emotions.  Feelings of apathy and lack of will are also apparent
  • Lethargy and Loss of Libido  – some SAD sufferers experience an overwhelming fatigue that can make even the simplest of tasks seem impossible, and a distinct disinterest in sex and physical closeness can occur
  • Difficulty Sleeping – something in the brain stimulates a need for more sleep, often resulting in sufferers over-sleeping and finding it hard to wake-up.  Staying awake during the day may become a real challenge, and early waking can compound the problem
  • Over-Eating – almost as if preparing for hibernation, sufferers of SAD are often driven to consume large amounts of heavy carbohydrates and sweet foods, which can lead to excessive weight gain and increase issues around self-worth
  • Cognitive Function – the brain seems to slow down, and memory and concentration at a general level become a challenge
  • Social Problems and Anxiety – tension, irritability and increased levels of stress can make it hard for SAD sufferers to be around other people
  • Spring Mood Change – as spring approaches sufferers may experience confusing emotions, even a period of hyper-activity and a general sense of restlessness.  Other symptoms will gradually recede


Treatments for relieving the symptoms of SAD include:

  • Light Therapy – this can entail bright light treatment, sitting by a “light box” for a certain period each day, or dawn stimulation, which triggers a low level light in your room prior to waking, which increases in brightness as the time to awaken approaches.  It is believed to be beneficial as it helps to regulate your natural body clock
  • Antidepressants  – used to treat episodes of depression caused by SAD, they work to elevate your general mood, and can be used in conjunction with light therapy
  • Getting Out and About – the weather may not tempt you, but getting outdoors into whatever limited light is available has been shown to boost the mood of SAD sufferers
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – a method of psychotherapy that helps you to change the way you think, feel and behave.  Results can be quick and effective

It is interesting to note that some people will suffer partial effects of the disorder, such as lethargy, tiredness, sleep and eating problems, but have no experience of the depression or anxiety that can accompany them.  This is known as sub-syndromal SAD, and suggests that suffers of the full weight of the disorder may be those who are more pre-disposed to depression.



About Cally Worden

About Cally Worden

Seasoned freelance writer Cally Worden lives with her family and dog in a quiet corner of rural France. A love of the outdoors, and a fascination with her children's ability to view life with fresh eyes provide the inspiration for much of her work. Cally writes regularly for various websites and UK print publications on subjects as diverse as parenting, travel, lifestyle, and business, and anything that makes her smile.

Website: Cally Worden

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