SAD syndrome - standing for "seasonal affective disorder" - can be rudimentarily summarised as the winter blues. This depressive condition has been attributed to a lack of sunlight in winter, which has a detrimental affect upon our happy (serotonin) and sleep (melatonin) hormones. Scientists and neurologists have uncovered that lack of sunlight can also disable the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that functions to maintain the body's internal balance, also known as homeostasis. This part of the brain also governs our circadian rhythms (internal body clock) - As our bodies use sunlight to schedule various important functions (such as when you wake up), lower light levels during the winter can disrupt your body clock and consequently lead to symptoms of SAD.
The symptoms of SAD syndrome can be primitively described as a strong yearning to hibernate. SAD's symptoms are wide-ranging and can include:
- lethargy during the day and struggling to wake up in the morning
- general depression
- loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- concentration problems
- overeating and excessive cravings for carbohydrates, comfort food and sweets
- loss of libido and sudden mood changes.
How to counteract SAD
The good news is that SAD is indeed "seasonal" and has been defined as a winter-exclusive from of depression, so it's not going to last forever and there are small changes that you can make to address both the cause and the symptoms of the disorder.
- For example, from a neuro-evolutionary perspective, our brains have not caught up with our contemporary indoor sedentary lifestyles, i.e. working inside an office all day long seated and under artificial light. So, small changes like a morning walk and taking a lunch break outdoors can make a difference. Any exposure (no matter how small!) to natural daylight that you can squeeze into your day will have a positive impact in mitigating the symptoms of SAD.
- Also - along with addressing any form of depressive causes - a healthy diet and exercise play an integral part in reducing the symptoms of SAD. Oats (spiced winter porridge for brekkie, anyone?) provide slow-burning complex carbs as well as tryptophan and vitamin B6, both of which are also key to serotonin (mood regulating hormone) production; as are legumes in general, such as beans, peas, and lentils, all packed with fibre and plant protein to help keep you satisfied and manage cravings.
- Finally, talk about it and keep good company. Call up your amigos and arrange a coffee in the rain and have a good moan whilst sipping a hot beverage. The more and the sooner you vocalise your feelings, the faster they can be addressed and you'll probably discover that you're not alone! Indulge in some hygge (the Danish and Norwegian concept that alludes to the mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment in a colder environment) and put on your fluffy socks, get that fire crackling, call-in a movie night and indulge in a few squares of your favourite dark chocolate (dark chocolate or cacao naturally contains flavonols, which have been studied for their neuro-protective effects and ability to improve mood, among numerous other benefits).