Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the days are becoming shorter and the temperatures are dropping, some people may find themselves struggling with the ‘winter blues’.

Whilst it is not uncommon to experience low motivation and decreased energy during the colder months, if it is persistent and impeding your ability to function across various areas of your life, it may be indicative of a more debilitating mental health condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between ‘the winter blues’ and SAD, therefore it is imperative to recognise the signs of SAD in order to obtain appropriate treatment:

  • A persistent low mood
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in daily activities
  • Heightened irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or despair
  • Lack of energy or heightened fatigue
  • Changes to sleep – typically sleeping for longer than normal / struggling to wake up in the morning

You may notice that the symptoms of SAD are nearly identical to those of depression.

However, the key difference is that they are triggered by the change of seasons. In fact, many people who suffer from SAD will not experience mental health symptoms throughout the rest of the year. It is not fully understood what can trigger these symptoms to occur at the same time each year however there is substantial evidence to suggest it may be associated with a reduction in sunlight exposure during autumn and winter. A reduction in sunlight exposure can interfere with our brain structures including those responsible for moderating our mood, sleep and internal body clock which can have devastating effects on our wellbeing.

How can we combat these symptoms and regain control and happiness in our lives?

Thankfully, there are many effective strategies which can help us to better cope with our symptoms and get back on track:

Light therapy:

Exposure to an artificial light box which mimics natural outdoor light is an effective treatment modality for SAD symptoms as it can stimulate changes to the brain structures involved in emotional regulation, leading to improvements in mood.

Lifestyle changes:

Simple living modifications such as opening blinds or placing chairs near bright windows to making your environment brighter can be helpful to increase light exposure. Perhaps consider finding ways to exercise outside as light exposure in conjunction with the benefits of physical activity on stress and mood can be helpful in reducing SAD symptoms.

Antidepressant medication:

Some people may benefit from the use of antidepressants to combat symptoms of SAD, particularly if the symptoms are quite intense. If this is something you are considering, please consult with your GP who will be able to provide you with advice and recommendations.

Speak to a professional:

Seeking support from a trained professional who has knowledge and expertise in combating SAD symptoms through various coping strategies can be incredibly beneficial. At Positive Mind Works, we have a team of psychologists who can help you to identify and reframe negative thoughts, reduce avoidance behaviour and help you to build healthy habits which can reduce the intensity of your symptoms.

Although Seasonal Affective Disorder may be difficult to prevent, knowing that help is available is a big step to helping you cope with it. To speak with one of our experienced psychologists, give us a call on 1800 327 477 (AU) or 0800 327 477 (NZ) or click here to book online.