Are you sad, or is it ‘SAD’?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Feeling low now it’s the winter months? And is this a pattern for you? Sadness that comes on when the seasons change?

You might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder means that you have a cycle of depression every year that is linked to the seasons.

It has all the same symptoms as depression:

  • feeling constantly low and exhausted
  • not taking pleasure in the activities you usually like
  • negative thinking and hopelessness
  • feeling guilty and worthless
  • changes in sleep and eating patterns.

What makes SAD different is that:

  • the rest of the year sees you with fairly stable moods
  • there is not a logical reason for you to be depressed otherwise, such as having a winter job you don’t like
  • your change in moods and energy always starts when the seasons change
  • when spring begins, you feel your moods lighten and are happy in summer
  • and this cycle has been going on for at least several years.

But I’m only sad, not depressed

If your mild sadness has a cyclical pattern that matches the seasons, it might still be SAD. Depression is on a spectrum, from mild to severe, and seasonal affective disorder can be the same.

And you are far from alone. A survey carried out by the Weather Channel in conjunction with Yougov found that 8% of Brits suffer from serious seasonal affective disorder, with up to 29% suffering some degree of winter depression.

Why do I have seasonal affective disorder?

The exact cause isn’t clear, although it’s connected to things like how sunlight affects hormones and brain chemicals, and to circadian rhythms, your body’s ‘internal clock’ which reduced levels of sunlight affect.

It’s also thought there might be a genetic tendency.

But I’m happy in winter, sad in summer

This is possible. It’s called ‘reverse seasonal affective disorder’. This means you feel good in the colder months, but get depressed when the weather becomes sunny and hotter.

Whereas regular SAD often involves overeating heavy carbohydrate based foods and over sleeping, summertime SAD is more likely to mean you lose your appetite and can’t sleep.

What can I do if I think I have seasonal affective disorder?

There are practical steps to take, such as getting outside when there is any sun, keeping up a steady exercise routine, eating well, and managing any life stress.

Otherwise, the NHS recommends light therapy as well as talk therapies like CBT therapy, counselling, and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Time to talk to a therapist about your winter mood swings? Use our easy booking tool now to find a therapist you like at a price to suit your budget.

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