Home Columns ELAINE BOND: Shedding some light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

ELAINE BOND: Shedding some light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Gedling Eye
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Goose Fair has gone, Halloween is on its way and yep, it’ll soon be Christmas…

The nights are drawing in and for most of us it’s time to get the warm clothes out, watch TV a little more and enjoy the changing seasons. But for some people this time of year brings a feeling of impending doom, not just because the sunshine and warm weather has gone, but because they have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The change in seasons affect people with SADs with a depression that has a significant impact on their life, and if they suffer from depression throughout the year, this will worsen as the seasons change.

In the UK people with SAD mostly suffer more with the change from summer to winter as there is the major change in daylight hours light, especially when the clocks go back. So, the suffering will feel worse between September and November and it may continue until March, April or May in the following year.

Although there is no real proven reason for SAD, one of the main theories is that as humans, the majority of us worked outside up to a couple of hundred years ago but now only approximately 10% of us do. In summer when the days are longer we can get the light we need from the time we spend outdoors, but in winter we are simply not able to absorb the amount of sunlight we need.


PICTURED: Elaine Bond is a counsellor based in Gedling

The way we live has made changes to the brain’s ability to pick up on natures cues. Our day no longer starts at dawn and finishes at sunset, we work nights or start when its dark in winter and walk out of the office when its dark. Electric lights allow us to work and go out late into the night and we have therefore lessened our brain’s ability to regulate our body clock and so we get a level of light deficiency in Winter.

All of this affects our circadian rhythms, which regulate food digestion, appetite, energy levels, sleep quality and length, and our mood. Our Circadian Rhythms are our body’s internal clock and if these rhythms are disrupted it can result in suffering from SAD. The ability to wake up feeling refreshed is reduced  and there is a feeling of lethargy throughout the day, possibly with mood swings and insomnia.

The levels of our serotonin are affected by the light taken in to the body and low light levels often mean low serotonin levels which then affect how well we can regulate our mood. Melatonin is produced by the brain when it is dark in order to send us to sleep, In fact hibernating animals have very high melatonin levels. These high levels of melatonin make us sleepy and want to hide away. Why some people are affected, and others are not remains a mystery.

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SAD symptoms include –

  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sleep issues – too much or too little
  • Depression the feeling of low mood, hopelessness and despair
  • Social issues – not wanting to talk to or be with friends and family
  • Craving for carbs and sugar leading to weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of libido
  • Mood swings
  • Drug and alcohol use

There are some things we can do to alleviate the symptoms of SAD such as spending as much time in the day light as is possible, try to take a holiday to somewhere warm and light when it is darkest here in the UK, eat well, exercise regularly (preferably outside) and there are natural light boxes you can buy which will produce very high intensity light to stimulate the areas of the brain that are missing the light intake. http://www.sad-lighthire.co.uk/

If self-help does not work there are some anti-depressants that can help, SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) help in severe cases and the herbal remedy St Johns Wort can also alleviate some symptoms. Talking therapies like CBT or psychotherapy can help, helping us to deal with some of the other factors including in our feelings of depression at this time of year.

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