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How to tell if you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

If you’re feeling flat or sad as the days get shorter and darker, you’re not alone.

Most people tend to feel a little lethargic and down during autumn and winter. However, you might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects how we feel, think and go about our daily activities. “SAD is one of the more hidden and less talked about mental health issues,” says Alyssa Lalor, Program Director at South Pacific Private. 

What is SAD? 

SAD is a mood disorder and this type of depression is related to how a person feels when there’s a change in seasons. “SAD usually develops in autumn and winter, but an influx of constant grey skies and torrential rain can of course impact our mental health,” explains Alyssa. 

According to Alyssa, symptoms can start out mild and get progressively worse as the season progresses. “The weather, environment and our surroundings can really impact our feelings, emotions and mood.” However, SAD tends to disappear during spring and summer when the weather is warmer and the sun is shining. 

Unfortunately we don’t know what exactly causes SAD, but experts believe that SAD may be caused by changes to the body’s circadian rhythms. Research has indicated that people experiencing SAD may have reduced neurotransmitter levels in the brain, such as serotonin, which helps regulate mood. Others believe that increased melatonin levels (melatonin is responsible for regulating sleep), can play a role, as can low vitamin D levels. 

The symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • difficulty in waking up in the morning
  • spending too much of the day sleeping
  • losing interest in normal activities
  • overeating and gaining weight

Understanding and coping with SAD

Alyssa says regular exercise, getting outside and making your home as light as possible can help. However, she says it’s important to be mindful that you might not just be feeling blue because of the weather. “If you notice these symptoms continue for more than two weeks and start to interfere with your daily routines, reach out to a trusted professional for help as you could be experiencing depression.”

The connection between SAD and Trauma 

For many who experience SAD, it can also be a trigger for past trauma, says Alyssa. “Your capacity to manage your emotions is lessened as you feel the darkness, and weight of depression seeping in – physically and mentally your reserves are down, so past traumas can start to once again bubble to the surface,” she explains.  

“To anyone who hasn’t lived with the symptoms of trauma, something as simple as a season change might not be that big of deal. However, for those of us who have lived experience of trauma – SAD as a trigger for trauma makes perfect sense.”  

Coping with SAD and Trauma 

  • Understanding the relationship with SAD and how it triggers your trauma is really a valuable step towards coping with it. Awareness is a gift to bring about change.  
  • Working with a trauma therapist who really understands this relationship and is willing to unravel your history together.   
  • Committing to change and new behaviours (adopting self-care practices) that are supporting and nourishing you in these colder, wetter, darker months of the year.

If you think you might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, please call us on 1800 063 332 or contact us here to find out more about our programs.

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