For many people, the clocks going back signals an extra hour in bed on a Sunday morning – but for many more it can mean the onset of seasonal affective disorder [SAD].
SAD is a form of depression that recurs on a seasonal basis. It is sometimes known as winter depression because the symptoms can be more severe later in the year.
Approximately one in three people in the UK experience some form of SAD with women 40 per cent more likely to suffer than men.
However, there are a number of things you can do to help combat this seasonal disorder, with lifestyle choices having a huge part to play.
Occupational health clinician Dr Jacques Saayman explained: “I would firstly ask the patient to look at their physical and mental wellbeing.
“I would advise them to try and get some form of exercise as many times a week as they can, even if that’s just going for a walk.
“It’s so easy to stay indoors when the weather is colder, and I know more people are working from home since lockdown began, but going outside for a walk during the day is so much better for you than sitting at home watching TV or staring at a computer screen.
“Doing things you enjoy is another way of coping with SAD, be that a hobby or simply spending quality time with your family.
“Even though we are all seeing less and less of our family and friends these days you should try and stay in contact with as many people as you can, whether that’s meeting someone for a coffee a couple of times a week or a phone call every now and then. It’s important that you don’t isolate yourself too much, even though that might be tricky right now.
“In some cases I might even suggest staying away from the news for a while because bad news could have a detrimental effect on someone’s mood.”
He continued: “There are a number of things you can do day-to-day that will help you cope with SAD such as getting into a good sleep pattern, not drinking too much caffeine, either cutting down or stopping smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. But even things like having a shower or a hot bath before bed and not having a TV in your bedroom can also help.
“Having structure to your day is a huge help so try not to stay in bed too late.
“Medication and counselling are available if necessary but that would be a last resort. In most cases just making sure you’ve got your lifestyle in check will help you cope better with SAD.”
The cause of SAD is still unknown though it has been heavily linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the autumn and winter months.
It is believed that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of melatonin and serotonin in one’s body.
Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. People with SAD may produce it in higher than normal levels. Meanwhile, serotonin affects your mood, appetite and sleep, and a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
“It’s a disorder that has to be managed every winter,” said Dr Saayman.
“But if you try and focus on improving your lifestyle then you can really reduce the symptoms. I would always recommend some form of exercise to anyone because getting endorphins flowing around your body is always a good thing and you will feel better for it.
“If that doesn’t work then, through BHSF, we could arrange for you to visit a GP, we could provide expert counselling or even some cognitive behaviour therapy.
“There is a lot of help available, however, I would always refer back to lifestyle choices in the first instance.”