Why do we feel SAD?


Today, I have a guest writer that will give a bit of an insight into why we feel a bit blue in winter, especially on a day like today, Blue Monday.

Rebecca Kimberley, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, is here to shed some light into this. You can follow her on Instagram.

It’s winter…the days are shorter, colder, darker and gloomy. You’re feeling a little bit sluggish, unmotivated, fatigued – and probably fed up. You’re not alone.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as ‘SAD’, is a mood disorder affecting approximately 1 in 15 of us in the UK between Sept and April. SAD is a type of depression that people experience during particular times of year or during a particular season. Others might experience a milder form of SAD, otherwise known as the ‘winter blues’.

Most of us are affected by seasonal changes in some way. It’s normal for us to feel more uplifted and energetic during Summer, when the sun is shining and the days are longer, or to find that you want to go into “hibernation” during winter and eat more and sleep longer to survive the darker months.

However, for someone experiencing SAD, the change in seasons will have a greater impact on their mood and energy levels, and can also lead to symptoms of depression that may have a debilitating impact on their daily life.

Although it is less common - it’s important to remember that some people might have symptoms during the summer and feel better in the winter.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD vary from person-to-person, but common symptoms can include:

  • A persistent low mood
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety – feeling tense and difficulty coping with stress
  • Feelings of despair, guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness
  • Feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day
  • Sleep problems - sleeping for longer than usual and finding it more difficult to get up in the morning
  • Craving carbs, sweet food or comfort food
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of libido – decreased interest in sex and physical contact
  • Weakened immune system – more vulnerable to catching winter colds and flu

Whilst it is unfortunately quite common to experience some of these symptoms in winter (and any other time of year), these symptoms can be debilitating and can have a severe negative impact on their day-to-day functioning.

What causes SAD?

It’s commonly known that it is more difficult to motivate ourselves during the winter, but the exact cause of SAD is not yet fully understood. Researchers have suggested that the lack of sunlight we experience during winter might stop the hypothalamus – a small part of the brain that controls important bodily functions, such as body temperature, thirst, appetite and weight control, emotions, sleep cycles and sex drive.

  • Circadian Rhythm (Internal body clock):

    The body uses sunlight to time important functions, such as when you wake up. During winter, the lower levels of light may disrupt the body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.

  • Serotonin production:

    Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, sleep and appetite. Lack of sunlight during winter may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feeling depressed.

  • Melatonin production:

    Melatonin is another hormone that makes you feel sleepy. The body may produce higher levels of melatonin in people with SAD than usual.

It could also be that some of us are more prone to experiencing SAD due to our genes, as it can sometimes run in families.

If you think you have SAD, or even can relate to feeling the ‘winter blues’, there are some things we can do (besides relocating to a hotter country for the next few months) to alleviate the symptoms of SAD and improve day-to-day functioning. Stay tuned for the next post for tips to get through the winter months!