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Don't let SAD ruin the rest of the winter!

Tameside Reporter catches up with Jessica Lancashire, senior psychological wellbeing practitioner at the NHS Tameside and Glossop Talking Therapies, to learn some simple ways to keep the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and winter blues at bay.

So, we've survived the 'Blue Monday' and the coldest month of the year- January. But the last month of Winter, February, albeit relatively short, can feel never-ending bleak and most depressing. As we wait for that romantic Indian summer and a bit of warm sunlight, our patience is stretched thin. Here is some expert guidance to see us through the rest of the winter and beat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

What is SAD? 

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.

“SAD is sometimes known as "winter depression" because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter. However, some people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter, although this is much rare,” explained Jessica.

There are conflicting data regarding how prevalent SAD is in the UK, Jessica said. Even though there isn’t a set number, it is a relatively common and debilitating mental health problem.

“If you look into the numbers out there that the NHS proposes, there’s a lot of different numbers. Some say 1 in 3 people, and some suggestions are 1 in 15, and some data even show that around 2 million people in the UK might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“It is believed that it is more prevalent in women between the late teens to 40 to 50 years. Children and older people don’t usually suffer from SAD,” she added.

“ One of the reasons why the numbers might be different is that people are under-reporting symptoms, so we’re underdiagnosing SAD. Also, there might be similarities between other disorders, so it might be challenging to diagnose whether it is SAD that someone is going through.

All kinds of low-mood symptoms or feelings of lethargy during the colder months can’t be categorised as SAD, according to the expert.

Some of the symptoms of SAD can be quite similar to depression, said Jessica.

These are Persistent low mood, Loss of pleasure or enjoyment, Lack of interest in day-to-day activities, Low motivation, Difficulty in concentration and Increasing irritability.

However, some unique symptoms of SAD are:

  • Increase in appetite.
  • Increase in craving for carbohydrates and sugary food
  • Wanting to sleep through the day
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Weight gain

Help is at hand. 

“In some severe cases with both depression disorder and SAD, there can be situations when the person suffering might not want to continue living. If this kind of thought creeps in, it might feel scary, and the natural thing might be to want to push those thoughts down and not talk about them. But it would be essential to be open about them and seek support,” Jessica said.

Jessica suggested that simple lifestyle changes can manage mild to moderate symptoms.

Tips to deal with SAD:

  • Replace carbohydrate-laden food with healthier options like green leafy vegetables and fruits.
  • Up your Vitamin D intake
  • Seek medicinal help from a GP to balance your serotonin levels.
  • Light Therapy – 1 hour every day in the morning. The NHS does not provide this particular type of light, but it is available to buy online.
  • Exercise and physical activities can boost feel-good hormones and endorphins.
  • Get out and about as much as possible and get natural sunlight.
  •  A good night's sleep can positively affect stress hormones, Cortisol.
  • Have a plan for the day ahead and stick to a good routine.
  • Talking Therapies.

*NHS Talking Therapies and Tameside Talk can be reached by self-referral and GP referral. 

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