Bad Weather = Bad Mood? Seasonal Affective Disorder
John Steinbeck said, “what good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness”. A lovely sentiment but one that is utterly lost on those that suffer with ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (S.A.D).
There is still stigma attached to having mental health issues. Thankfully over time we’ve become more knowledgeable, and consequently far more understanding of those that struggle with their mental health. However, there’s a strange hinterland those that suffer with S.A.D are placed in, a land where people are almost sympathetic, because they’re not quite sure your deserving. There’s a general perception that it’s not so serious, that S.A.D is simply a minor irritant, just a few people who feel a tad under the weather during winter.
Those in the ‘JUST PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER’ camp may feel differently once they know just how debilitating S.A.D can be. To begin with, there are two types of seasonal affective disorder. One is sub subsyndromal or (S-S.A.D), this is the variant that is more commonly known as the ‘Winter Blues’. The other is the recurrent incubus that creeps in around November and cripples you until February. Those suffering ‘Chronic S.A.D’ find they need constant and continuous treatment throughout the winter months simply to function.
Symptoms include lethargy, a chronic lingering fatigue that makes even your limbs feel heavy. Anxiety, you are no longer yourself, you are overwhelmed by the slightest of things, your equilibrium is shot to pieces, for you each day is now a white-knuckle ride. Edgar Allen Poe described sleep as little slices of death, and those grappling with S.A.D will agree with that sentiment. As the disorder creeps in, some sufferers find it increasingly difficult to stay awake, others to sleep at all. Libido, your sex is very definitely no longer on fire. As listless and apathetic as you now are, the last thing on your mind is sex, meaning S.A.D has been the death knell of many a relationship. Your overeating, your mood is in constant flux, nothing brings you pleasure and your immune system is weakened. Last but not least your inner monologue is on repeat, telling you that you’re a failure, good for nothing, useless, and lazy. There it is folks, your officially S.A.D!
All is not lost, though if you are wrestling with chronic S.A.D it can seem so. There are several treatments available to ease the symptoms and help you get back on track. As S.A.D is thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight, ‘Heliotherapy’ or’ Light Therapy’ may be just the thing. Exposing yourself to polarised polychromatic light for 30 minutes to an hour each day will in most cases considerably improve mood. It's thought artificial light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, and increase the production of serotonin, the hormone which regulates appetite, digestion, mood, and behaviour. If light therapy has no impact you can try to train your brain to beat S.A.D into submission with (CBT), ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’. If all else fails, your GP may prescribe you antidepressants which there is not a spot of shame in. For those with the mild S-S.A.D, you may find your lot improved by eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise, yes that old chestnut, but it does work.
We often hear people asking is S.A.D a real thing? For those of you that experience S.A.D that question is all at once belittling and infuriating, but you’re not alone, recent studies have shown 1 in 3 Brits live with S.A.D. For those who think they may have S.A.D see your GP, there’s help out there, so get yourself to the doctor and stop suffering in silence.
Words by George Carter