S.A.D. is more than just the “Winter blues”

Do you tend to experience symptoms of depression during the autumn and winter? Is this a pattern that you have noticed each year?  There is a type of depression which is known as Season Affective Disorder or SAD which tends to occur during the winter months.

Unlike the “Winter blues” which is fairly common, SAD is rare and the effects of it can be debilitating for those experiencing this type of depression.  The exact cause is not known but It is believed to be associated with the reduction in the amount to light  during the colder months of the year.  In addition, winter is often a time when we are also less active and spending more time indoors.  This type of depression is considered to be unusual in Australia compared to countries which experience days with very little sunlight and long periods of darkness.

Many of the symptoms of SAD are very similar to depression and include a change in the following; length of sleep, social activity, mood, weight, appetite and energy levels. Unfortunately, it can take a while to be diagnosed with this type of depression as a person needs to notice a pattern.  To be diagnosed with SAD, an individual must experience depression in the winter months at least two years in a row.

Just like other types of depression there are multiple treatment options available.  SAD can be treated with a combination of light exposure, psychological treatment and sometimes medication, if required.   Other things that may help improve mood include; ahealthy diet, developing an exercise routine for the winter months and trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Why should I exercise?

When someone is experiencing depression they are very unlikely to want to do things such as physical activity or exercise.  They would prefer to sit in a chair and do nothing or even sleep.  Often they will say ” I will do it when I feel like it”.

The problem with this is that if you do what you feel like doing, you will feel depressed. Withdrawal and inactivity will fuel depression.  When a depressed person is passive or inactive they spend time worrying, obsessing or ruminating and this never leads to feeling better, only worse.   When depressed any physical activity is better than nothing.

Physical activity will help to improve mood although some activities are better than others. When considering they type of physical activity it appears that both physical and mental effort are important.  The greater the effort required the stronger the impact it has on improving mood e.g. going for a brief walk is good but jogging or running is better.

Exercise has many positives for a person with depression, apart from increasing fitness, and some of these are: exercise may block negative thoughts, distract people from daily worries, and increase a sense of control or self esteem, improve sleep patterns, increase energy levels, and exercising with others may increase social contact.

Exercise may also change levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones. Regular exercise as a treatment for depression has the added benefit of improving general health and preventing serious illnesses.




I can’t get to sleep

Often when someone has depression their sleeping patterns can change; getting too much sleep or sometimes not being able to get to sleep at all.  When you can’t sleep it makes it difficult to function, think clearly, or do things during the day so you get the temptation for a quick easy solution.  This could be a couple of glasses of alcohol or taking a pill, but this can cause more problems in the future.  Alternatively, a few simple techniques can help to restore good sleep habits.  The following does by no means cover all the possible solutions, however they are some of the most common and useful options.

Do you eat a big meal late at night just before going to sleep? That feeling of being full and bloated can cause discomfort and issues with going to sleep.  The best thing to do is eat a meal several hours before bedtime.

Do you have caffeine late in the evening?  Caffeine is found in a variety of things we use daily.  Everything from coffee, cola and energy drinks to tea and some medications.  Stop caffeine before 4pm while you are trying to improve your sleep.

Do you have lots of nervous energy in the evening or don’t feel tired before bed? Exercise during the day can help to get rid of excess energy, and this could be with a walk or some other type of exercise.  But, don’t do it just before bed as you don’t want to be over-stimulated at bedtime.

Worrying in bed late a night is also a common problem experienced by many people with depression.  Thinking about the days events, planning for tomorrow, reflecting on the past and thinking about how you might have done things differently can keep you from sleeping.  For some people keeping a journal can help, or writing down their worries.

Men don’t get depressed

Often men don’t understand depression and frequently do not identify as being depressed.  It is more than just feeling down or sad for a few days which most people experience.  The difference is that this feeling will last for days, weeks and months.

 Lack of energy seems to be a problem for many men experiencing depression.  They stop participating in the world around them and find it harder and harder to perform at their normal level at work, home and with hobbies.  Spending time with friends and family becomes increasingly draining, both physically and mentally, so it is just easier to be alone.

 Increasing anger and irritability with family, friends and work colleges is also common with men who are depressed.  This can results in frequent arguments and fights, causing major problems at work or in important relationships

 A common explanation used by men is that they are just physically unwell, run down, stressed or tired.  This they believe is the main cause for how they have been feeling recently.   If they just wait long enough and can get through the bad patch they will recover and things will get better.  But they don’t recover and they don’t get better.  Instead their problems deteriorate.

To manage the feelings and thoughts associated with being depressed some men will drink excessive amounts of alcohol.  Other men cope by sleeping more or obsessing about exercise.  In the short term this might relieve some painful thoughts and feelings but it won’t stop them as they always come back.