Counsellor Sarah Barr shines a light on why you may be feeling glum in this gloomy weather.

“There once was a girl whose happiness was tied to the sun.

As it rose, so did she, and her smile was like beams of light.

As it set, so did she, and her frown cast shadows on her face”

A Short Fairy Tale.

For some people this time of year can really impact on how they are feeling. You may have heard about the “Winter Blues” or “Seasonal Affective Disorder” but what exactly is it?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to the change in the seasons.

The symptoms often begin in autumn as the days start getting shorter. Symptoms are typically more severe during December, January and February.

SAD often disappears in the spring and summer and usually return each autumn and winter.

This is a real disorder and there are different strategies you can use to help keep your mood and motivation on a steady level throughout the darker months.

How do I know if I’ve got it?

An example of SAD Symptoms include:

  • Lethargic: lacking in energy, feeling sluggish and unable to carry out a normal routine.
  • Sleep problems: finding it hard to stay awake during the day but having disturbed nights.
  • Loss of libido: not interested in physical contact.
  • Anxiety: inability to cope, intrusive and negative thoughts.
  • Social problems: irritability, not wanting to see people.
  • Depression: feelings of gloom for no apparent reason, loss of interest in activities and hobbies.
  • Craving: carbohydrate and sweet foods, leading to weight gain and a change in appetite.

It is always important to consult your doctor if you believe you have SAD as it may be another condition.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood,howeverit is often linked to less sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.

Living in Donegal (the northern hemisphere) we are more susceptible to SAD. We experience big changes in the amount of light we receive between the summer and winter. Our days become shorter and darker in the winter months and this does impact on our moods.

Our body’s internal clock can get confused in winter months, as it uses sunlight to time important functions, such as when to wake up, go to bed. So lower levels of light in the winter can really disrupt our natural rhythm and lead to symptoms of SAD.

A mixture of changes in seasonal light and more hectic lifestyles can leave a negative impact on our mind and body, with more people than ever before living with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“My SAD has always felt like a tidal wave I was destined to be crushed under; right now, it feels like regular ocean waves. I’m fighting it one crest at a time, falling down sometimes but not always, and knowing a life raft will be there if I need it, knowing someone will come. Not because they have to, but because they want to. Not because they sensed that I was drowning, but because I finally realized it was okay to call out for help”

– Heather Hogan, The Gift Of Asking: Diary of a SAD Girl.

The main treatments for SAD are:

  • Lifestyle

Trying to get more natural light: such as walking during daylight hours, exercising also helps to manage and lower stress levels. Sticking to a routine eating/sleeping the same time each day can help to regulate you body clock.

  • Light Therapy

Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder. During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

  • Counselling

Counselling is a talking therapy, which can help support you through seasonal effective disorder whilst offering new strategies to use to manage SAD. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective technique in managing symptoms of SAD.

  • Doctor

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for longer than two weeks it is advisable to make an appointment with your doctor.

Take Care ~ Sarah