Dark Days, Down Days: Understanding SAD


Last weekend the clocks went back one hour in the UK, lightening the mornings (for a brief moment) and darkening the evenings. Now, it’s marginally lighter when I wake up for work, but it’s pitch dark when I leave to drive home at 5:30pm. I was struggling even before the clocks went back, but now it’s even worse! I spend virtually no time outside in daylight during the week, unless I make a conscious effort to go for a walk at lunchtime, a fact that is really getting me down right now.

I’m not alone in this – a lot of people feel down during the autumn and winter months. It’s actually a real condition, and the condition has a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. (Appropriate, right?) Approximately 1 in 15 people in the UK suffer from SAD between September and April every year. It’s described by the NHS as a “type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern”, and is characterised by a persistent low mood, disinterest or loss of pleasure in things you would normally enjoy doing, feeling lethargic or more sleepy than usual during the day, difficulty in getting up in the morning, and weight gain (among other symptoms). It’s thought to be caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight which stops the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) from working, which affects the production of melatonin (a hormone which makes you feel sleepy), serotonin (the happy hormone, which affects your mood, appetite and sleep), and your body clock.

There are several ways to help pick yourself up a little if you are a SAD sufferer, or just if the change in weather has given you the temporary blues, and these include exercise, taking walks during the day, sitting nears windows if possible, keeping your home light and airy, eating healthily, and managing your stress levels. If your SAD is a little more severe, there are light therapies and specialist sunlight lamps and alarm clocks that you can purchase that help wake you up with ‘natural’ sunlight, regulating your body clock and making it a little easier to get out of bed.

I haven’t been diagnosed with SAD, so all of this information is coming from the NHS, but I have definitely been struggling with the dark mornings and evenings recently. I’ve been feeling persistently low over the last couple of weeks, I’ve failed to shift any weight despite healthy eating and exercise, and have been overly tired during the day despite sleeping well, and for a good amount of time, each night. To try to combat it, I’ve been eating better (which, as previously mentioned, I had been doing anyway for other, belly-jiggle-related reasons) and trying to exercise (also primarily for jiggle reasons), but when it makes you feel down, it’s harder to motivate yourself to do much else besides snuggle up on the sofa in comfy trousers and a blanket all evening…

If you’re feeling a little under the weather at the moment, or if the 4pm darkness is giving you the blues, don’t worry! It’s quite a common thing, and there are ways to help it. If you’re really worried, speak to your doctor about what they can do for you, or you can reach out to myself or the community on Twitter the NHS forums to truly show you that you’re not alone in your “winter depression”.

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