It’s not unusual to feel a bit out of sorts in the winter time. Most people don’t enjoy waking up in the cold and dark, and it’s understandable that people feel like staying warm at home when it’s wet and freezing outside. The British winter can be dark, long, cold and wet, so no wonder we might end up feeling a bit blue.
For some people though, the autumn and winter can trigger the start of a more serious condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can have an impact on their everyday life. Symptoms can begin as early as September, and can last all the way through to April or May.
Mind, the UK mental health charity, lists the following symptoms:
- Lack of energy for everyday tasks, such as studying or going to work.
- Concentration problems.
- Sleep problems – such as sleeping for longer than usual or not being able to get to sleep
- Depression – feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty and like you have let others or yourself down. Sometimes feeling hopeless and despairing, or apathetic and feeling nothing.
- Anxiety – tenseness and inability to cope with everyday stresses.
- Panic attacks.
- Mood changes in some people such as bursts of hyperactivity and cheerfulness (known as hypomania) in spring and autumn.
- Overeating – particularly 'comfort eating' or snacking more than usual.
- Being more prone to illness – some people with SAD may have a lowered immune system during the winter and may be more likely to get colds infections and other illnesses.
- Loss of interest in sex or physical contact.
- Social and relationship problems – irritability or not wanting to see people or showing signs of difficult or abusive behaviour.
- Greater drug or alcohol use.
I’ve lived with SAD for several years now. On the whole I manage the symptoms myself with exercise, good self-care and the use of a light box. Light boxes for SAD have been specially-designed. Normal bright lights and daylight bulbs just don’t do the trick! I’m not even entirely sure how they work, but my secret theory is that they trick my brain into thinking it is summer!
Symptoms of SAD can vary, and can sometimes come on very quickly. If you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, and they are affecting your everyday life, you should go and see your GP, who can talk you through the treatment options. Don’t suffer in silence.
There are a lot of different theories about the causes of SAD. For more information, you could visit some of these useful websites:
By Mabel Keogh. Mabel is the Senior Project Leader for Kirklees Youth Mentoring at Northorpe Hall Child & Family Trust. She has worked for the Trust for several years as a mentor and managing and developing support services. Mabel continues to learn about the different ways we can improve our emotional wellbeing and support others to do so, particularly young people facing challenges.