With the mornings now largely dark, cold – and very often soggy too – the first few weeks of the year can certainly be a gloomy time, can’t it? Stir into this grim cocktail the post-Christmas blues and a longer wait for payday, and it really can be difficult for a lot of us. There’s a particular group of people, though, for whom this time of the year might be particularly tough: those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a type of depression known to come and go with the seasons, and which tends to be worst in winter. It affects some two million people across the UK. Let’s have a quick chat about the causes, signs and possible remedies for the condition, for as with all things mental health, opening up a dialogue can be a powerful tool.
What causes SAD, and what does it look like?
The causes of the condition aren’t entirely understood. While it’s possible that some sufferers might have a genetic predisposition to SAD, it’s generally linked to a lack of sunlight during the shorter Autum and Winter days. Doctors suggest that this reduction interferes with the hypothalamus, a part of the brain, leading to:
- A reduction in serotonin – this is the hormone which affects mood and sleep; lower levels are linked to depression
- Increased levels of melatonin – the hormone that makes us feel sleepy; higher levels might make us more tired or lethargic than normal
This can manifest in multiple symptoms, such as:
- Persistent low mood
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities we find enjoyable
- Feelings of despair or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
If you’re struggling with any or several of these symptoms and think you might have SAD, the best thing to do is to speak to your GP.
How else can you look after yourself?
The NHS maintain that lifestyle measures can be powerful tools in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, and many of these are simple to implement. Have a look at these suggestions and consider whether you might benefit from making a few small changes.
1. Exercise regularly
We know the gym can be an intimidating place, especially in January when they’re at their busiest. If you’re feeling brave, then good for you – it can be a space of tremendous growth, support and even new friends. If it’s not your cup of tea, then don’t worry, as the gym is far from the only way to attain the benefits of exercise. Even just making the time to walk a little each day could be immensely powerful. How about using your lunch hour to walk to your favourite coffee shop every day, or choosing to walk to the train station in the morning if possible?
2. Enjoy some sunlight
As a lack of sunlight is thought to be the leading cause of SAD, it goes without saying that we should make the most of the daylight hours we do have. Again, making time for regular walks will be key here. Exploring somewhere green and scenic at the weekends might be an excellent idea too; time spent in nature can be profoundly calming, and the more sunlight we’re exposed to during these shorter days the better. If you work from home regularly, then it’s also a good idea to ensure that your workspace is airy and well-lit by natural light. Working near a window is best!
3. Connect with others
It can also be helpful to talk to your family or close friends about how you’re feeling. By educating those around you about SAD, they’ll better understand your mood, and so be able to support you more effectively. Similarly, if you think a friend or colleague is struggling, then reach out to them. Ask how they’re doing; arrange to go to lunch together or even just to grab a coffee – it doesn’t matter – the important thing is just to get talking. You never know how much it might mean.
How we support our team
At Sutton Winson, we’re immensely proud of our culture of support and transparency regarding mental health. At the heart of this are our dedicated mental health first aiders, who are on hand in both of our offices to ensure everyone has access to confidential advice and support if they need it. Crucially, they’re not therapists or counsellors, and cannot provide long-term support. Instead, they’re simply a point of contact, trained to recognise the signs of mental health issues and guide those suffering in the right direction. This way, none of our people have to feel like there’s nowhere to turn, whether it’s SAD they’re struggling with or something else.
Can we help you support yours?
Our Risk Management team can provide training in Mental Health First aid. Their regulated courses include First aid for Mental Health Awareness (1/2 day), First aid For Mental Health (1 day) and Supervising First aid for Mental Health (2 days).