Reviewed by: Erica An, APD, BNutr&Diet
Do you often feel down or lacking in motivation when the weather turns colder? It’s common to feel wary about the winter months, but feeling miserable could be something more. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a mood condition that is triggered by the changing of seasons.
Similar to depression, symptoms of SAD include; feelings of prolonged sadness, helplessness, lacking in energy, changes in eating and sleeping patterns and a loss of pleasure in the things you enjoyed. You may also feel like you want to sleep a lot of the time. You also may feel heavy in your limbs or have a strong desire for carbohydrates and other rich, comforting foods. These signs and symptoms of SAD generally appear during winter months and are alleviated when warm weather rolls back around.
What are the causes of SAD?
Further, more concrete, research is needed, however, it is commonly accepted that SAD is triggered by a lack of sunlight during the shorter days of the winter season.
Sunlight can affect our hormones and some people are more susceptible to change than others. One theory is that the lack of sunlight may affect a part of our brain, called the hypothalamus, from working properly. Less sunlight during this season can also reduce the amount of our melatonin hormone. This is the chemical that tells our bodies when it’s time for sleep. Sunlight also affects the serotonin hormone, which is responsible for our mood, appetite and sleep; the variables that are most commonly affected by SAD.
What to do if you think you may have SAD?
Whilst there is a reduced risk of SAD in Australia due to our year-round warmer climate, if you think you may have SAD, action should be taken by seeking professional help and support.
Looking for some home remedies? Here are some things you can do to potentially improve symptoms of SAD:
- Getting outdoors more often is a great start. If you don’t want to do it alone, ask a friend to come with you and go for a walk. We avoid going outside in winter because of the chill, but it’s worth rugging yourself up and embracing the fresh air.
- If there’s any sun out during the day, make the most of it. Just being in the sun for 10 minutes can drastically improve our serotonin and melatonin hormone levels.
- Do some exercise. Exercise helps to release endorphins to trigger a positive feeling in the body, so a little exercise goes a long way.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption. Cutting back, and even better, cutting out completely, will improve your mood and your ability to get restful, healthy sleep.
- Following a structured meal plan, such as our 12WBT plan, is a great way to stay on track nutritionally and change bad habits for the long-term by helping you avoid binging on unhealthy options and introducing nutritionist-approved meals.
- Talking to someone about it and getting professional help. There are organisations, such as Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute, that have online and direct support available to those who need it.