Ever heard of SAD disorder? Well no, neither had I until this week, but, having endured a testing winter this year, I’m definitely interested in finding out more about it.
SAD disorder is short for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It involves, says Kerry McLeod, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, as quoted in The Guardian: seasonal changes having a great effect on mood and energy levels, leading to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on day-to-day life (note, a small number of people experience symptoms in summer and look forward to the colder, bleaker winter months).
Obviously symptoms vary and what for some people might be mild irritation or the blues, or feeling a bit “down in the dumps”, could be very serious depression in others. In the UK, for example, this can be a very serious mental health challenge, worsened when people are restricted indoors in the cold and gloom, as was the case for months during Covid-19 lockdowns.
On a personal note, I did observe that as we got towards the end of this past winter, just the thought of another freezing day, burning gas and fires, was starting to get my anxiety levels rising, as my tolerance began to wane. And that with the shortish winter we experience in the KZN Midlands!
The UK NHS lists some of the potential symptoms of SAD as:
a persistent low mood;
a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities;
feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness;
feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day;
sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning;
craving carbohydrates and gaining weight;
So now that we’ve worked out what broadly it is – feelings of being down, experiencing anxiety or depression brought on by constant cold, dark and bleak weather, with an absence of Mr Sun and his healthy vitamins – what can be done to limit the impact?
Before we get to some of those, McLeod advises speaking to your GP if you notice a change in feelings, thoughts and behaviour that lasts for more than two weeks or keeps returning. “A lot of the stuff that we know is important for keeping ourselves mentally healthy in general applies here,” said psychotherapist Rakhi Chand in the same article. Without a good dose of sunshine, “it’s even more important to exercise, eat well, socialise and keep a regular sleep pattern”.
Some suggestions to counter SAD:
Take Vitamin D;
Get outdoors, exercise and, when possible, take in some sunlight;
Embrace the difficult conditions. If you enjoy exercising, don’t be turned off by the rain, cold and wind. See it as a challenge or an experience, prepare properly and get out there to get your exercise fix. Get the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing and see how it affects your mood;
If exercising in the elements, prepare properly by getting the right kit. Make it comfortable, so that exercise is not a dreaded chore, but something manageable. Think of thermal longs for example, gloves, beanies, a good pair of shoes for wet weather.
Make sure you do your best to get going and head outdoors, try line up some fun activities, do free stuff at museums, exhibitions that are indoors. Try to see friends, have fun and share experiences. Do your best to eat healthy foods that keep your energy levels up. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, make sure to speak to a medical professional.
* The NHS in the UK notes that in some people the condition can actually be reversed: They dread the warmer summer months and look forward to the darker, colder conditions of winter.