Cold days have welcomed the month of July in several major cities in Australia. The cold blast of early July marked the start of the coldest time of the year in the country.
‘Winter blues’ could be the cause of your daily struggle during chilly mornings and frosty nights.
Beyond winter blues: What is SAD?
It is common to experience a shift in mood and a sudden heavy, lethargic feeling during the cooler days, and this is what is referred to as winter blues.
More than just winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of clinical depression is a condition to be aware of. Gregory Murray, director of the Centre for Mental Health at Swinburne University defines SAD as a recurrent variant of depression linked to a particular season, more often during winter. Patterned mood swings and breakdowns caused by SAD usually wears off when spring and summer is just around the corner.
“…but for some people it can just be a winter related phenomenon,” says Professor Ian Hickie, the Executive Director of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute. “…it’s more of something that resembles hibernation” he added.
How to identify SAD: Symptoms and causes of seasonal sadness
SAD is often caused by the shortened daylight hours during winter resulting from the changes in the human body’s circadian rhythms, including our melatonin and serotonin levels. In Australia, this would be more common in between the months of June to August.
It shows closely related cognitive and affective symptoms; however, also exhibits symptoms not typical to major depression.
Although symptoms may vary from person to person; people struggling with SAD show symptoms such as:
- oversleeping or less than usual hours of sleep
- morning fatigue
- appetite and weight changes
- frequent mood swings; and
- suicidal thoughts.
SAD impacts and disrupts a person’s routine, behaviour in daily activities, and overall wellbeing caused by the cooler temperature and lack of sunlight.
Have you been feeling a bit under the weather this winter?
Beyond Blue is Australia’s most well-known and visited mental health organisation, focused on supporting people affected by anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Here are some tips from Beyond Blue which may help improve symptoms:
- Try going outside more often – ask a friend or family member to rug up with you and go for a walk.
- If you see the sun, run outside and try to get some of it on your skin (if you can, and it’s not too cold).
- Try not to go over the top with the red wine (or any other alcohol) – long term; it will disturb your sleep and make you feel worse.
- There are lots of relaxation exercises you can try – guided meditation, try some breathing exercises or take a nice warm bath.
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling – text a friend or jump online to the Beyond Blue forums if you’re not up to doing it in person.
Who can be affected by SAD?
Professor Murray states that SAD affects about 1 out of 300 Australians, a rare case compared to cases of SAD in the countries in Northern Hemisphere. Countries that are getting less than eight hours of daylight and longer dark times, or no daylight at all on some parts are more likely to have people that are diagnosed with SAD.
Murray adds, “It’s as serious as any other depression and needs to be dealt with quite assertively.”
Seek help if you need it
These times of struggle may leave you with overwhelming feelings of sadness, restlessness, and despair. Remember, you are not alone. With professional help, it can be overcome.
It is always important to pay attention to our mental health and overall wellbeing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder this winter, help is available.
Contact the following free 24/7 hotlines around Australia:
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Lifeline 13 11 44
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