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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Yes, it’s well and truly winter and the Irish weather is miserably cold and damp, wet and windy. Little sign yet of the new growth and hope that comes with spring, and few glimpses of the sun and blue sky. Not surprisingly many of us are negatively affected by the changing seasons and darkening of the summer light. We feel depressed, irritable, and tired. Our activity levels decrease, we lie in bed late in the mornings. We tend to crave comfort foods especially sweet and stodgy food. This can eventually affect our enjoyment of life, health, our performance at work and our relationships. This disorder is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that affects a person at roughly the same time each year, usually starting when the weather becomes colder and the evenings darker in September or October, and ends in April or May when the weather becomes warmer, the evenings longer and brighter. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter days of winter, and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer. What causes SAD is a topic of ongoing research. What is known is that it has something to do with the amount of sunlight you receive. As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules. In addition, Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases

For many people SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment. For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering. Between 60% and 90% of people with SAD are women and the typical age of onset is between 18 and 30 years of age.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Counselling

Some people find that light therapy helps them to beat seasonal affective disorder. This requires purchasing a light therapy box which must be used for a certain amount of time daily and continue throughout the dark, winter months.

Alternatively (or in addition) a few sessions of counselling can really help to banish Seasonal Affective disorder.

I recommend to my clients:

  • Get out walking even if the weather is bad, it will increase the amount of daily light exposure
  • As much as possible allow natural light to permeate your home and working environment and spend time near windows if possible
  • Exercise regularly and try to eat as healthily as possible
  • Take a Vitamin D supplement – One of the leading vitamin D researchers, Dr. Michael Holick, estimates that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency. A recent report issued by the British National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests children should be given free vitamin D supplements to address “a hidden epidemic of deficiency” that is driving disease statistics.
  • Maintain a regular sleeping schedule – and avoid the temptation, however strong to stay in bed late in the mornings
  • If your mood is severely affected, avoid if possible major life changes or stress during winter months

Need some more advice and support?

If you are feeling low or depressed and would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!

Other related articles on depression: Beat Depression Fast!, Depression and Negative Bias, What is Depression?