Do darker months dampen your mood? Spot the signs that you could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder
It’s anything on a scale from a drop in mood to bouts of depression – and with the autumn and winter months drawing in, research from the Weather Channel and YouGov predicts that as many as 29% of adults will experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
In some cases, touching those who do not experience poor mental health at other times of the year, SAD can quickly take over our lives – so, if you suspect that you might be experiencing SAD and are struggling to cope, reach out to your GP or a mental health professional.
Here, we’re exploring some of the lesser-known symptoms of winter SAD, to help you take back control over the coming months.
1. Sleep problems
It could be oversleeping, trouble falling asleep, or disturbed and restless nights, but sleep problems often come with SAD. It’s suspected that SAD is caused by seasonal changes which disrupt our circadian rhythm – the 24-hour body clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours – which may be what creates this link.
Sleep problems may be what leads to fatigue, or you may experience unusual fatigue while still managing to get a standard night’s sleep. The fatigue could feel physical – your body may feel heavy and you may want to rest throughout the day – or it may be a more mental fatigue, lethargy, or weariness.
3. Changes to your appetite
In the same way that depression can cause a change to your appetite, this is a symptom that can appear with SAD, and it includes both an increase and decrease in appetite. In addition, you may be experience anxiety alongside low mood, which can affect your gut health and come with feelings of nausea.
4. Peaks and troughs
SAD can (to some extent) change with the weather – so, you may see that on days where we catch some winter sunshine, you feel a kind of relief. That said, SAD is more complex than simply: blue skies good, grey skies bad. You may find it helpful to track your mood through journaling, which will also help you to work out if there are coping mechanisms that are particularly effective for you.
When you’re mood drops, it’s easy to see how that can lead you to a pessimistic outlook, and you may be able to spot this on a number of levels – from the way that you approach daily tasks, to your outlook on life and the future more broadly.
6. Trouble concentrating
Are you finding it difficult to get stuck into your daily tasks, or have you noticed that your to-do list is feeling a lot more intimidating lately? Be it mental fatigue, low mood, or – most likely – a combination of the two, our concentration levels can really take a hit when we’re struggling with our mental health.
Burnout is a separate mental health condition where individuals experience mental exhaustion as a result of high levels of stress. When you’re already living with SAD, you may be more likely to fall into burnout, as the challenges that you may have easily coped with before become much more burdensome.
8. Lack of interest in sex
You may notice a dip in your sex drive, or find reaching orgasm more challenging. This could be tied up in fatigue and low mood, but it’s also worth noting that some of the medication that is used to treat SAD can impact your sex drive.
When you’re going through a difficult time, small things that would usually pass you by may feel much bigger than they once did. You might notice that you’re a bit more snappy with those around you, or that your temper has gotten shorter. A strong support system is really important at times like these, so if you find that SAD is impacting your relationships, it’s worth sitting down to have frank conversations with your loved ones about how you can work together through this.
10. Routines and schedules are harder to stick to
Trouble concentrating, sleep problems, and a sense of apathy can all make sticking to the routines and schedules you had set up in your life a whole lot more difficult. That said, many people do find comfort in routines, especially if they include scheduled time for self-care. So, it may be that you need to adapt what is no longer working for you, into something that will support you now.
If you are struggling with SAD, reach out to a counsellor using counselling-directory.org.uk