Finding it hard to tear yourself out of bed on these frosty winter mornings? Or are the grey skies and being cooped up inside all day making you feel out of sorts?
You may have heard of ‘a case of the winter blues’ being bandied around this time of year, but what does it actually mean?
Despite the popularity of the term, there’s no research-based evidence that the ‘winter blues’ is real. However, it’s also not unusual to be fighting off the urge to hibernate when July rolls around. Perhaps it’s feeling a bit unmotivated, extra sleepy, or craving comfort food. It’s helpful to know some simple, mood-boosting lifestyle changes you can make between now and spring, and the signs to look out for when winter sadness may be getting more serious.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Although rarely diagnosed in Australia, a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) does exist. SAD is more common in areas of the northern hemisphere where shorter days and longer periods of darkness can result in seasonal depression.
In most cases, SAD is diagnosed after a person has experienced the same symptoms over two or more winters. Once winter passes, the symptoms go away.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Symptoms usually start out mild and worsen as the season progresses. These may include:
- Lack of energy
- Sleeping too much
- Finding it hard to wake up in the morning
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Overeating and craving carbohydrates
- Gaining weight
- Losing interest in normal activities
Interestingly, three-quarters of those affected in the northern hemisphere are women1 and SAD can also occur in the warmer months. The general symptoms in spring and summer are different to those experienced in winter, and may include trouble sleeping, not feeling hungry, losing weight or feeling agitated and anxious.
What causes SAD?
The specific cause of SAD remains unknown. Research on the mood disorder has explored how reduced exposure to sunlight in winter disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, also known as our internal ‘body clock’2. During the colder months, we generally spend more time indoors and are exposed to less sunlight when we do venture outside, causing our bodies to produce more melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and less serotonin (a hormone that regulates your mood), which have both been linked to the symptoms of SAD.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a chemical that has several important jobs within the body. It’s a natural mood stabiliser that controls wellbeing and happiness. Not having enough serotonin is thought to contribute to depression.