Winter can be a slog, but there’s a big difference between wishing winter was over and not quite feeling on top form, and actually suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

While many of us are familiar with the terms ‘winter blues’ and SAD, a lot of people – 70% in fact, according to a recent survey by Innolux lights from Purelifestylewonders – actually know very little about what SAD really means.

A woman looking sad in winter
SAD can make you feel like spending more time on your own and isolating yourself (Constantinis/Thinkstock)

 

Around 6% of UK adults suffer from SAD, according to a report published in the BMJ. It’s three times more common in women, usually first strikes around age 27, and it’s a lot more serious than just finding winter a bit of a chore.

SAD is basically a form of depression, the key difference being that it occurs specifically because of winter. The lack of sunlight in winter can affect brain chemistry (experts think some people are more sensitive to changes in production of serotonin, aka the happy hormone, the neurotransmitter linked to mood, appetite and sleep regulation), which can trigger symptoms of depression in some people.

“You might be feeling like you don’t really want to meet anybody, you’re spending more time at home and isolating yourself. You’re sleeping more, or you’re sleeping less, becoming fidgety and irritable,” says psychologist and CBT psychotherapist, Chireal Shallow.

“You might not take great care of your appearance, you lose your temper a bit more, there’s also loss of appetite [though some people may find they over-eat]. SAD is depression, but it just happens at a time when it’s affected by the cycles of nature.”

Psychologist Chireal Shallow
“Most people will experience some kind of slump” in winter, according to Chireal Shallow (Chireal Shallow)

 

It’s important to remember it’s normal to have low moods sometimes, notes Shallow. “In my view, most people will experience some kind of slump. Getting up in the dark, coming home in the dark; we will have a dip in motivation and energy levels. But when you’ve got someone who’s experiencing it every day, that’s an indicator you’ve got something going on.”

If you do have SAD, there’s lots you can do to help manage symptoms, including ‘light therapy’, CBT, medication when it’s more severe, and even simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference.