As the nights get longer and temperatures are plummeting many people find their happy moods sapping away with the last remnants of summer. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that affects up to 20% of people, over two thirds of which are women. So what causes this drastic change in people’s mental health?
It’s been a long observed phenomena that people can range from mild but still significant mood changes to very life debilitating depression with the change of the seasons. Whereas life in the summertime feels full of holidays, beach days, and spending the long periods of sunshine and warm evenings outdoors with family and friends, the coming of winter is associated with the opposite. Heading outside can be a fight against the elements of gusting winds, heavy rain, the biting cold and wet snow. Options of outdoor and evening activities get replaced by long nights spent in front of the TV.
You might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder is you repeatedly suffer from a considerable change in depression, stress and anxiety levels with the change of the seasons. Symptoms include overall feelings of unhappiness and despair, loss of interest and enjoyment in life and activities, sleeping difficulties, lethargy, avoidance of other people and social events, overeating, irritability, inability to concentrate and finding yourself unable to cope.
There’s a lot of theories as to why people’s moods change so significantly, primarily being the change in exposure to light and Vitamin D and lack of activity or exercise. Vitamin D has been shown to strongly impact on cases of depression. People who spend more time in the sun on a regular basis are shown to have overall better mental health and happiness. Absorption of Vitamin D affects the chemicals in our brain, particularly serotonin; this chemical affects a range of our behavioural patterns such as mood, appetite, libido and sleep cycles. So when the season’s change and the days are darker, cloudier and our instincts are to stay indoors are bodies are being deprived from Vitamin D. There are now vitamin supplements as well as light therapy treatments available to boost your levels when sun exposure is not an option.
Activity and exercise is the other key factor in creating this seasonal environment for depression. Exercise has been shown to activate the pleasure centres in our brains and impact serotonin levels. Physical activity also burns up stress chemicals, like adrenaline, which promotes a more relaxed state of mind. Any sort of activity that gets us off the couch is going to increase your overall mood particularly if it involves social interaction. A lot of people can feel more isolated and lonely during the colder months as social activities decrease. For many it can be an increased time of stress and anxiety due to work and study commitments. Without the regular release of weekend activities and sunshine left in the day after work the stress is not being eased through relaxing and having fun. Don’t despair! There’s many ways you can try to get out of the house, socialise and be active. There’s many winter team sports such as soccer, netball, rugby that can get your heart rate pumping and get connecting with friends and new groups of people. Starting up at a gym, yoga studio or indoor sports can provide you the benefits of protection from the elements whilst getting a work out. Buy some good winter clothes and get out there anyway! It’s tempting to rug up with a hot chocolate and marathon a TV series, but force yourself to go out have dinners with friends and go for walks or do a bit of gardening anyway, you’ll feel much better!
Did you know that a small percentage of people who live in warmer climates experience Seasonal Affective disorder in the Summer? For some people the overwhelming humidity, heat and wet seasons can result particularly in increased irritability, stress and anxiety. It’s always worthwhile to seek help if your experiencing difficulties with depression, anxiety and stress. If you notice yourself or a friend suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or are struggling reach out to a loved one and see your doctor to discuss treatment options.