In 1984 psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal first introduced a term that changed the way the world thought about winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) describes a dip in mood that usually occurs during the winter months and is believed to affect up to 1 in 6 people.
It is thought to be caused by a change in hormones within the brain due to a reduction of exposure to natural light. It can affect mood, sleep, appetite, activity and even sex drive. The body relies on sunlight to produce vitamin D in the skin and over the summer months this is readily available however during winter the production of Vitamin D stops completely. Another hormone that controls mood is serotonin (the so called happy hormone) and a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels.
If you notice a winter slump or the autumn blues then the chances are you may have some element of seasonal affective symptoms. Symptoms can range from a mild change in mood to severe depression.
A range of treatments are available for SAD. These start with lifestyle measures such as getting out in the sun. Having as much sunlight as possible is a great start and will stave off the winter blues. Exercise also boosts serotonin levels and managing stress levels with keep the mind healthy. Some people find light therapy helps and SAD lamps or light boxes can be bought to simulate an earlier sunrise. In more severe cases talking therapies such as counselling or antidepressant medication may be warranted.
If you are worried you may have any symptoms of seasonal affective disorder then you should contact your GP who can recommend the most suitable treatment for you.