Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD

September 28, 2023

Faye Johnson

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (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 prevalent and more severe during the Autumns and Winter time.

If you have SAD, you may experience feelings of low mood (depression) during some seasons, or because of certain types of weather or temperature. It can be experienced in Winter or Summer.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not completely clear, but it's often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter Autumn and Winter days.

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect:

  • Production of Melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher-than-normal levels.
  • Production of Serotonin – Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of low mood
  • Circadian Rhythm (Body's internal clock) – your body uses sunlight to time many important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the Autumn and Winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

It's also possible that some people are more susceptible to SAD because of their genes, and some cases appear to run in families.

Picture depicting the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder on mood

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feelings of depression that happen most of the day, every day, in a seasonal pattern
  • Having tiredness or low energy
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in appetite or weight gain
  • Sleeping too much
Person experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms

Treatment for SAD

  • Exercising and moving regularly. If you can get yourself out for your run during the day, perhaps during your lunch break or have a slightly later start/early finish on a couple of days per week, the benefits of exercising outdoors in the day are great during the Winter months
  • If you can’t always get out in the daytime, do not fear! Any movement and exercise, even indoors, or in the darker mornings and evenings, still has great benefits for your physical and mental health
  • Why not make it social! Meet up with friends or your running club, grab your head torches and high-vis and get out for a group run or organised session. Staying connected during the darker months is important and helps you feel less isolated
A man running outdoor to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Managing and prioritising sleep. Some people who experience SAD have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Maintaining a regular schedule for sleep and good “Sleep Hygiene” often improves sleep, which can help to reduce symptoms of seasonal depression
  • Keeping your exposure to natural light consistent and predictable has benefits for your circadian rhythm and eating at regular intervals through the day can help you to avoid overeating. Weight gain can be a side effect of SAD in some people so a positive exercise and eating routine can be beneficial
Sunlight breaking through clouds, representing a potential relief from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • If you can’t get outside much during the day, let the light in! Keep your blinds and curtains open, even open the window to let in fresh air, especially if you are doing your yoga or strength session. Just pop on an extra layer if you are feeling a bit chilly!
Healthy lifestyle choices to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to support both the innate and adaptive immune systems by providing an enhanced capacity to quickly attack and memorise infections that the human biological systems are commonly exposed to
    - Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin in a family of compounds that includes vitamins D1, D2, and D3.
    - Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight. You can also get vitamin D from certain foods and supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in your blood.
    - Not only is it important for immune support but getting enough vitamin D is important for typical growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance to certain diseases.

You can read more about this through these great articles from Torq.

Vitamin D - Immunity, Health & Performance.

Immune System Support

Written by Maximum Mileage Coach, Faye Johnson. UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness, Well HQ ambassador and Level 4 PT. Faye has helped many women break through their running plateaus and smash their races! Why not reach out to us and enquire about having her as your coach by hitting that enquiry button

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