Seasonal depression

Seasonal Depression & SAD: The Complete Guide


Nov 7, 2023

From time to time, you may notice prolonged periods where your mood changes, but you might not know exactly why that is. One possible cause is Seasonal Depression (SAD); a natural phenomenon in which some people tend to feel more depressed when exposed to certain weather conditions.

This weird negative feeling doesn’t only impact those with diagnosed depression, it can also happen to anyone, everyone, any gender, and at any age – including children. In fact, you may even ask how common is seasonal depression? Well, research has shown around 2 million people in the UK alone experience it. So, don’t worry, you are not alone, it is a very common condition and might just be caused environmentally.

In this blog we are going to go through a full debrief on everything you need to know about seasonal depression and ways in which you can deal with seasonal depression.

What is seasonal depression?

Seasonal depression is more medically known as “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD” for short. Yes, the acronym certainly speaks for itself where you ultimately do feel sad.

It is a type of depression that predominantly manifests during the cold winter months.

However, it is common for seasonal depression to have the opposite effect during the winter. For some people, they can experience seasonal depression in summer and can feel a lot better during the winter.

For more information on seasonal depression during summer, have a read of our summer seasonal depression guide on how to manage it.

Symptoms of SAD

The most common symptoms you may experience through seasonal depression include:

  • Feeling sleepy.
  • Feeling irritated or agitated.
  • Demotivated to do anything or feeling lazy.
  • Feeling more stressed and anxious.
  • Difficulty in making decisions.
  • Low self-esteem, including feeling guilty or worthless.
  • Loss of interest in things you usually would find interesting or exciting.
  • Feeling lethargic.
  • Food cravings and overeating.
  • Struggling to concentrate on work, everyday tasks or just in general.

Why do people get seasonal depression?

In simple terms, it can be just the weather. However, if we dive into the science behind seasonal depression and why the weather impacts the workings of the brain and emotions, it mostly is to do with the amount of sunlight we receive.

Surprisingly or not, the amount of sunlight you receive has a huge impact on chemicals and workings of your brain - particularly the hypothalamus. Here are a few ways in which it can affect you and your brain:

Overproduction of melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone responsible for feeling sleepy. Studies have shown that during the dark, the pineal gland located in your brain, responds to the darkness. This response causes the pineal gland to over produce melatonin making you feel more sleepy, lazy and demotivated – symptoms commonly found when experiencing seasonal depression.

Less serotonin produced

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter typically responsible for maintaining your mood and happiness levels as well as regulating your sleeping patterns. With serotonin, studies have found there is a certain protein that helps transport serotonin back to the presynaptic neurone, which is called SERT.

A good way of thinking about this is your neurons as bridges, the SERTs as guards and the serotonin as cars. The guards (SERTs) send the cars (serotonin) back to the beginning of the bridge (presynaptic neurone). When there are too many guards (SERTs) less cars (serotonin) can cross the bridge, thus lowering the number of cars that can cross the bridge (lowers serotonin levels).

Circadian rhythm are impacted

Circadian rhythm is most commonly known as your 24-hour body clock, by which your body times your bodily functions. It is most impacted by light sources which can impact your physical and mental functions as well as your behaviour.

An example of how light impacts your bodily functions is feeling the need or want, to sleep once it begins to get darker outside indicating to your body it is time to sleep and rest. As a result, through the winter the amount of light we get is reduced and so it is common for the circadian rhythm of our bodies to be affected by this reduction in light through showing symptoms of seasonal depression.

How to combat seasonal depression

We now know what the potential causes of seasonal depression are, but how do we cope with seasonal depression? What can do to help uplift our mood? Here are a few ideas to help you deal with seasonal depression:

Stay warm

Ever wonder why a hot cup of tea, or hot chocolate feels like the best thing ever, especially during the winter? Research has shown that keeping warm stimulates parts of the brain that control “feeling good”. Ways in which you can keep warm include:

  • Having a hot drink
  • Covering up with warm clothes and blankets (yes - cosy movie nights will help too)
  • Having a warm bath
  • Eating a homecooked hot meal

Get natural sunlight

During the winter, this can be difficult due to there naturally being less sunlight, however you can still wrap up and make sure you get your daily dose of sunlight. This can include:

  • Wrapping up and going for morning walks, or if you are at work, going for a walk at lunchtime.
  • Simply sitting next to a window.
  • Keep the natural sunlight in by keeping your room curtains and blinds open to let the light in during the day.

Ensuring you get natural sunlight during the winter nights will help your body get the sunlight it needs to regulate your serotonin and melatonin levels.

Surround yourself with people

After a long day of school or work it can be difficult to have the social capacity to be around people and you can feel drained. However, being surrounded by loved ones like friends and family can easily uplift your mood even if you aren’t in the mood to do so initially.

Spending time with loved ones can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. This doesn’t have to mean throwing a massive party (unless that is something you enjoy) it could mean small things such as:

  • Grabbing a coffee with a friend
  • Having a mini movie night with family or friends
  • Cooking a meal together with a loved one or friend
  • Inviting friends over or going over to friends and family’s houses – sometimes getting out of the house or changing your environment can stimulate good feelings.

While therapy and professional help should always be your first point of call for tackling mental wellbeing challenges, read our blog on SAD for quick ideas on how to change up your patterns and ease your depression.

Need more professional help – CBT

Sometimes talking to a professional to help understand what you are going through and cope with negative thoughts and behaviours, and this is exactly where you should turn if you need help overcoming the symptoms of your seasonal depression.

Here at Head Agenda, we specialise in offering CBT for a range of mental illnesses including seasonal depression. Our registered, experienced therapists can provide the support, guidance and talking space needed to help you through this difficult patch.

For more information on our service for CBT, visit our CBT page.

Alternatively, if you are ready to overcome seasonal depression today with CBT, click the button below to make an enquiry.

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