Winter Blues and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Now that Christmas is over, do things seem a bit flat? Is it difficult to get motivated, would it be easier to hibernate, just crawl under the duvet and wait for Spring?
When the sun is shining, people tend to feel happier and more energetic.
Conversely, people tend to lack energy and feel less sociable when it's dark and gloomy.
The amount of sunlight that you get can affect your mood, appetite and energy levels.
If this sounds familiar, you may have a milder form of SAD called winter blues.
For some people, this general feeling of lethargy goes deeper and the post-Christmas blues just compound a feeling which started as the days were getting shorter.
SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is well-documented and there's sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods. About 21% of the UK population experience this low mood called subsyndromal SAD or Winter blues. A further 8% of people suffer from SAD which is a more serious debiltating illness which prevents normal function without treatment.
SAD is sometimes known as "winter depression" because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be most severe during December, January and February.
In most cases the symptoms of SAD begin to improve in the spring before eventually disappearing.
What causes SAD?
The exact cause of SAD isn't fully understood, but it's thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year.
Sunlight can affect some of the brain's chemicals and hormones. However, it's not clear what this effect is. One theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls mood, appetite and sleep.
In people with SAD, a lack of sunlight and a problem with certain brain chemicals stops the hypothalamus working properly. The lack of light is thought to affect the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin and the body's circadian rhythm (its internal clock, which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period).
You should visit your GP if you have the symptoms of SAD. Your GP may carry out an assessment to check your mental health and ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.
Your GP may recommend treatment which includes sitting in front of or beneath a light box.
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