A Quick Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a term that pops up a lot on news sites and social media feeds around late November/early December. The weather is getting worse, the days are shortening and many are beginning to take note of the disorder.
However, this flood of information and sympathy can be problematic. First of all, many don’t fully understand the condition and awkwardly try to cheer sufferers
up. Secondly, some people have already been dealing with SAD for more than a month by this point.
We need a greater understanding of SAD and its impact to help those that deal with it on a yearly basis.
Many people that are lucky enough not to suffer with it struggle with understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder. They fail to see the lengths to which people struggle each day, or refuse to see it as true disorder. Then there are those that claim to have SAD when they feel a little tired or down on a wet, wintry day.
The truth is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is much more debilitating than that. There are people that struggle with the condition every winter, sometimes for the entire winter, and have to completely adjust their lifestyle.
In this guide to understanding SAD we will look at the following:
- misconceptions about the winter blues
- the importance of sunlight on health
- the issue of daylight savings and the timing of SAD
- why SAD is as much to do with physical health as mental health.
- ways to help and empathise with the condition
The first issue here is this idea of the winter blues.
This is a term commonly associated with this disorder, but perhaps it is time that we retired it. Winter blues risks trivialising the disorder and leads to misconceptions about the effect. It therefore make understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder more difficult.
There are those that will say that they have the winter blues because it is too dark and cold for summer pastimes, or at the start of January when the festive season comes to an end. They may feel sad, but they do not have SAD. Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder struggle with mood and energy problems because of the season itself, not the social changes that come with it. It is all about the lack of sunlight.
Sunlight is crucial for good sleep, better moods and overall health.
The timing of this disorder varies from person to person, but it often ties in with the shortest days in December, or the darkening mornings around October. Once the days get shorter, it is much harder to get enough sunlight.
Some manage OK with these changes and get through the day as normal. They may grumble that they don’t like the dark morning on the way to work, but they can still get up and get to work on time with no problem.
Dark morning are nightmare for SAD sufferers. They need that source of sunlight to kick start their biological rhythms, get them out of bed and improve their mood and energy levels.
This about more than feeling sad. This is a physical deficiency in melatonin that creates health issues.
Our melatonin levels are essential for good health and good sleep. The brighter the days, and darker the nights, the better we feel.
This is because the sunlight triggers melatonin, which regulates our body clock – also known as the circadian rhythm. A deficiency can lead to fatigue, mood disorders, sleep problems and depression.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder to help SAD sufferers?
The first thing to do is to treat this as the real disorder that it is. We need to give sufferers the time and means to make the right adjustments for the winter period. Some people in dark climates struggle so much with this seasonal depression and fatigue that they have to change their work schedule, or even their location.
Those that have the flexibility and money to do so often take a break away to find some winter sun. Those that stay at home benefit from melatonin supplementation and artificial sunlight. The use of SAD lamps also can make a massive difference.
Most importantly, we have to understand that this is a yearly battle for many people. Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder don’t dread the winter because of the weather. They dread it because of the mental and physical changes it brings. Sufferers that have the chance to adapt, adjust and supplement their sunshine will get through the season. Those that are ignored, ridiculed or trivialised will struggle needlessly.