Dreading the end of summer? You're not the only one. Experts have confirmed there is a link between the changing of the seasons and a decline in your mood. But, before the winter months hit, how do the seasons affect your mood exactly?
While you may notice that you get down in the winter, and may attribute this to the "winter blues", Seasonal Affective Disorder (known as SAD) — where your mood is affected by the changing of the seasons — is a real thing, and is described by the NHS website as "a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern." According to a 2014 research report by the Weather Channel and YouGov, one in three people (27 percent of the population) in Britain suffer from SAD, and women are 50 percent more likely to report suffering from the disorder than men.
Medical experts have attributed many of the symptoms of SAD to shorter days, and thus, patients receiving a lack of sunlight, as reported by Cosmopolitan. This means that as soon as the nights start closing in, which will become more noticeable as autumn edges ever closer, sufferers will start experiencing symptoms, which include low mood, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, persistent fatigue, and cravings for carbohydrate-laden comfort food.
Matthew Rudorfer, a research psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, told Huffington Post that the condition is "a well-defined clinical diagnosis that’s related to the shortening of daylight hours."
Likewise Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, a researcher and psychiatrist, who led the team that first described SAD and wrote the book Transcendence, tells me: "People with winter difficulties often experience low energy levels, less enthusiasm and optimism, and difficulty concentrating and getting things done when the days get shorter and dark, and this can last all the way through till the spring."
However, there are various lifestyle changes sufferers can make to help alleviate the symptoms. Firstly, exercise. The cure to so many ills, exercise will not only help to boost your mood, but it will also help to ensure you sleep solidly through the night. Try to maintain a moderate level of exercise through the day, and move regularly — it doesn't need to be anything too taxing, just a walk around the park will do.
Meanwhile, there are certain measures you can take to ensure that the reduced amount of daylight has minimal impact. With experts confirming that SAD arises in part due to a lack of sunlight, ensure you get as much light as possible during the day, opening all curtains and blinds, and taking time to go outside. Also, consider investing in a light therapy box, a device created specifically to help tackle SAD symptoms. On the flip side though, insomnia can exacerbate the symptoms of SAD, so ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible come nighttime.
Furthermore, as with so many mental health issues, communication is key. Dr. Kathryn A. Roecklein, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh tells me: "As winter comes, some people will find themselves feeling down, tired, and less motivated to keep active and engaged in social activities." But resist the urge to shut yourself away from your nearest and dearest. Isolation will only increase feelings of despair brought on by SAD, and there's really no limit to the benefits that quality time with your closest friends can have. Plus, talking to people always helps.
Changing the way you eat can also deliver results. Because while the temptation to gorge on pasta and cookies may be overwhelmingly strong, experts advise to stay away from the biscuit tin and focus on fresh fruit and veg, proteins, and omega 3-rich foods. Carbohydrates and sugars cause a spike in blood sugar levels — and the crash that follows can impact on your mood also, according to Hello! magazine.
Interestingly, Dr. Rosenthal has made also made connections between the seasons and behaviour, as he tells me: "Researchers have even noticed seasonal variations in stock market behaviour, the so-called SAD effect, in which stocks tend to be undervalued in the autumn when people’s mood is often lower and overvalued in the spring as a result of excessive exuberance."
If you notice that your mood changes drastically with the seasons, keep an eye on your diet, try to exercise, and avoid the temptation to stay in and instead, go out and socialise. You see, the autumn may affect your mood but there is plenty you can do about it. However, if your symptoms do get particularly difficult to manage, always make sure you visit your GP for advice.