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What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?


What Are Winter Blues?

What are winter blues exactly, or to put in more scientific terms, what is Seasonal Affective Disorder? Seasonal Affective Disorder (often known and written as SAD) is considered a type of depression (reduced serotonin levels, lower mood, lesser energy), which follows a specific seasonal cycle or pattern. SAD is a subtype of depression, meaning the symptoms are the same, however it is usually specific to the winter months, when there is a distinct lack of sunlight. Disturbance to the biological clock which regulates our sleep-wake cycle (known as something called our circadian rhythm) is often the trigger, as well as hormonal changes in serotonin and melatonin levels, which occur when the nights become longer, and the days become shorter (often combined with a drop in temperature).

Winter Blues Symptoms

Generally speaking, the winter blues or SAD symptoms are recognised as an overall lack of energy and heightened sense of sadness or indifference. This can often include over-eating and sleeping too much. However, here are some other signs to look out for, if you are wondering how to determine what is seasonal affective disorder.

  • Loss of interest in hobbies you usually enjoy (activities feel like too much effort to be enjoyable)
  • Struggling to focus at work (scatterbrained, easily distracted)
  • Feeling slower and more lethargic (more tired, despite less activity)
  • Withdrawing from social situations (socialising feels intimidating and negative)
  • Difficulty making decisions, taking initiative, or sticking to plans (reluctancy to create goals or plans at all)
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair about the future (finding it difficult to put effort into everyday life)

How to Beat the Winter Blues

As with mental health in general, whilst there is no magic pill or formula you can take, there are certainly plenty of scientifically proven ways which can help to alleviate symptoms. What is Seasonal Affective Disorder medicine without a good healthy diet and exercise (this always goes without saying and can often be the best place to start). Put down the cheese covered meals, sugary snacks and overly-processed cereals. Start with a brisk walk, a light job, a gentle stretch. The rest becomes easier with time.

How Long Does it Last?

SAD typically lasts between fall and spring, over the course of the winter months. However, it can also occur throughout the summer months. This also depends, of course, on which side of the equator you are on. The further you are away from the equator, can determine how short your days, and how long your nights are. Typically wherever there is less sunlight, there will be an increase in winter blues symptoms, for a longer period of time.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment

So now we know the answer to what is Seasonal Affective Disorder, we need to know how to treat it. How can we help ourselves and each other to feel better, during the hardest parts of the winter months? There are a few different remedies to mention here:

  • When there is available sunlight, go and get the most you can from it. This will help boost serotonin levels, even for an hour or two on your lunch break. Some sun on your face can work wonders for your overall sense of wellbeing. 
  • If natural sunlight simply isn’t available, you can purchase lights designed for helping decrease SAD symptoms. These light boxes mimic sunlight, and can help boost your natural production of melatonin.
  • A habitual sleep routine of getting up and going to bed at the same time each day can really help to normalise and harmonise your natural circadian rhythms (and therefore happy hormones).
  • Boosting your intake of vitamins, minerals and level of exercise generally can be kept simple for most people. On the whole, avoid too many dense carbohydrates, which can be a typical comfort food in the winter. Try to include as many fruits, vegetables, proteins and fibre-packed grains such as quinoa and wild rice in your diet as you can. Keep sugary treats as treats. Breaking a sweat a few times a week does wonders for SAD, whether that means a light home work-out, a gym session or run around in the local park with a ball and a couple of friends.
  • Remember to drink plenty of water. This can be more difficult to do when it’s easier to crave alcohol or hot chocolate during the winter months, when our body craves warmth. Limit your alcohol intake too – as alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel more lethargic in the long-term. 
  • Make sure you are including social time in your calendar to spend time with friends and family. Even making time for a phone call or FaceTime with someone can make a huge difference to your day. Physical interaction is ideal, so even if it doesn’t feel totally naturally when you are heavy with the winter blues, an extra push to go and spend some time talking about other things with other people can be really benefitial.
  • CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is proven and effective for various kinds of depression. For long-lasting treatment of SAD, especially if particularly severe, this could be a practical option. CBT works by challenging (and changing) attitudes and behaviours. Focussing on beliefs and thoughts that are held by a person’s cognitive processes.
  • Antidepressants, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) could also be an option for a more severe case of the winter blues. Always speak with your doctor about the risks, dosage, an idea of length of time and what you hope to achieve. SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which can often alleviate symptoms to a point where CBT is more effective.

Does CBD Help With Depression?

With other factors in place, as mentioned above, such as a healthy diet, enough sunlight, some stretching, walking or sweat-breaking – yes, a daily dose of CBD oil can also help ease the effects of seasonal and/or bouts of depression in everyday life. Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) is linked to regualting our overall sense of harmony and balance in the body, taking into consideration elements such as our mood, sleep cycle, temperature gauge and appetite. The compounds within CBD work by binding to receptors CB1 and CB2, increasing the production levels and therefore overall functioning of our ECS. CBD works in combating depression by interacting with our body’s serotonin receptors. Though scientific proof is based largely on animal and anecdotal studies in this area, there is thought that CBD could eventually be thought of as a natural alternative to depression and anxiety medication (such as SSRIs). For now, consider consuming this plant-based medicine in the form of tincture oils, capsules or sprays, as part of a holistic approach to caring for your mind and body.

Does CBD Help With Anxiety

Similar to the ways in which CBD can help ease symptoms of depression, the CB1 and CB2 receptors are also linked to our central nervous system, and therefore levels of increased or decreased stress and anxiety. A lack of serotonin is also linked to the hormone cortisol, which is pumped around our blood when our body enters a state of perceived threat, emergency or something known as fight or flight. Scientific studies have shown evidence that CBD could help counterbalance the brain malfunctions associated with chronic stress. Other factors which cause stress are surprisingly genetic (a heavier imbalance in our hormones and neurotransmitters) and environmental toxins. Ultimately, CBD helps with anxiety by regulating the ECS, which is linked to our central nervous system, which is connected to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. If you are curious about experimenting with CBD oil for anxiety, try 1-2 drops of the Calyx Heal CBD Tincture Oil before bedtime to help regulate your serotonin production and sleep cycle.

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