22 December 2016
It's estimated that 3% of the UK population will experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at some point in their lives. While Christmas is a joyous time for many people it can be a real struggle for those with the 'winter blues'. In this month's blog I've asked Dr David Smart one of our new General Practitioners to give us an update on the condition.
What is SAD?
SAD is a form of depression which occurs during the winter months and is caused by a lack of natural light. It’s a common condition which is more prevalent in women and those aged between 15 and 55.
The severity of symptoms varies but includes:
- low mood or anxiety
- increased sleep and tiredness
- increased appetite and weight gain
- reduced libido
- lack of interest in normal activities and reduced concentration
What causes SAD?
As the nights get longer our body clocks can find it difficult to adapt to the reduced daylight hours. Research has demonstrated that daylight can influence us physically; changes to levels of melatonin and serotonin in the body can impact our mood, emotions, and appetite. No wonder we can be left feeling a bit out of sorts during the winter months and have the urge to 'hibernate'.
What can you do?
There are many treatment options for SAD. For milder symptoms the following lifestyle changes are a good place to start:
When should you see your GP?
- Regular exercise and eating healthily will help manage dips in mood. It can be hard to maintain this during the festive periods but you'll really notice the difference with a boost in endorphins and vitamins.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and can worsen all SAD symptoms.
- Reduce stress where possible. Talking through problems and your feelings with people you know and trust can help ease anxieties and reduce negative feelings.
- Invest in a light box. Sitting next to a high intensity light source (which emits light 10 x the strength of regular household light) for 30 minutes each day has been shown to greatly alleviate SAD symptoms.
If your symptoms persist and your day to day activities are affected, then go and see your GP. They'll take a full history in order to develop a personalised treatment plan. Those suffering from severe symptoms may be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or anti-depressants, in addition to the aforementioned lifestyle changes.
Why not give Dr Smart's tips a try over the festive period; go for a long walk and have a satsuma instead of dipping in to the bowl of chocolates. For further information and advice visit the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association website.
On behalf of everyone at Bupa Cromwell Hospital I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!