Do you ever step out of the office at 5pm to find it is already pitch dark outside? Do you ever have to turn the lights on at 3pm in order to be able to do anything in your own home? Do you ever wake up in the morning, and as you get ready, it feels like you are doing it in the middle of the night? How does that make you feel? I bet it is not a nice feeling.

When I looked out of the window last weekend I wanted to go straight back to bed until it got lighter outside. It is amazing how the clocks moving back by only an hour can create a shock to the system, mentally, emotionally and physically. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) usually starts in autumn as the days get shorter. The exact cause is not really known but it is associated to a lack of exposure to sunlight which affects the functioning of the hypothalamus. It upsets the production of serotonin and melatonin leading to an imbalance in sleep, mood and appetite.

Many of us feel normal after a few days as our bodies adjust to the seasonal change. However, some struggle to find their balance and it worsens in December and January. They can be more vulnerable due to their lifestyles. People who live alone are more prone to it, especially if they spend a lot of time on their own. A lack of interaction with people makes them gloomier. This might also happen for those who do not have a particular reason to wake up in the morning. If it is still dark outside and one does not need to go to work, it can be quite tempting to stay in bed ... and this can become a daily habit which makes one lethargic all day long. A day turns into a week, a week into a month and so on throughout winter.

Symptoms of SAD
People with SAD have similar symptoms to depression including:

  • Comfort eating which leads to weight gain, making the person even more depressed
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning and needing extra sleep during the day
  • Feeling constantly tired and gloomy
  • An increased desire to be alone and loss of interest in daily activities

These can help …
  • Find a reason to go out every day. Healthy food shopping could be a good reason. Do not buy everything that you need in one go so that you will have to go out frequently.
  • Exercise every day. Going to the gym is one of the best ways. If you stay home, using videos on YouTube can be very helpful. Or at least a brisk walk or jog which are free of charge!
  • Set your alarm clock to wake up at the same time every morning. It works better if the clock is far from the bed so that you will have to get out of bed to stop it.
  • If you don’t work, keep in touch with the outside world by meeting friends and family.
  • One of the best solutions is having a pet, preferably a dog. Dogs like their daily walks and you will have no choice but to accompany them!
  • Voluntary work makes a big difference. Offer your time and energy to a local charity shop or a group which visits orphanages and elderly people. There are countless organisations who would love to have your assistance. You will feel much better when you feel appreciated.

Winter brings more darkness than usual but the light within us shines all the time.