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Feeling Unhappy during the Happy Holidays: SAD and the ‘Winter Blues’

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Darkness at 4:30 PM, the ‘shortest day of the year’ and Winter Blues. ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, often dominant during the winter months.

Submitted by Georgia (21), UK

Many of us are affected by the change in seasons. Shorter days and pressure to be cheerful can cause a bad case of the winter blues. If these symptoms become more debilitating, particularly to those who already suffer mental illness then it is likely that Seasonal Affective Disorder is to blame. Whilst the symptoms of SAD and winter blues overlap, SAD can occur at any point of the year and its symptoms are arguably more severe. Differing between the two during the winter months is difficult but the overarching notion of seasonal sadness remains and can make wintertime demanding to those suffering.

My experience with winter blues

Winter months can be extremely overwhelming. For starters, motivating oneself when the hours of lightness are restricted to a meagre 7 hours is challenging, particularly when those hours of light are spent either working or studying. Scientifically lack of sunlight means your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you more lethargic and I often suffer extreme fatigue during this time of year. Fatigue and an intense workload is a combination that does not go hand in hand, particularly when the list of things to do increases but your energy levels decrease. There is also no denying that this time of year is inherently busy. Uni deadlines, Christmas shopping and an influx of festivity with an extra pressure to conform to plans because it’s the best time of the year. Other than darkness I find this time of year overwhelming because being happy feels like an obligation and this is just not achievable sometimes. You feel obliged to wear a fake smile so as to not dampen the mood but doing this for weeks on end is exhausting. It’s always daunting talking about this kind of depression but when I did, I realised it is more common than I once realised. Winter Blues and shorter days evoke feelings of fatigue and sadness in a lot of people and talking about it can really ease symptoms.

Coping with SAD and Winter Blues

Around 20% of people in the UK suffer mild symptoms of SAD and winter blues with around 3% experiencing a severe form of seasonal affective disorder. With SAD it is important to remember that it is largely neurological and thus treatable. Medication and ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ are the most common treatments for any kind of depression but there are also other options. Light therapy works for SAD and investing in a light box has massively reduced symptoms for myself personally. Light boxes mimic outside light and are most effective when used in the morning. To use a light box you simply have to hold the box in front of your face for 15-20 minutes every morning during the darker months and symptoms of SAD will reduce. Most importantly I often find with mental illness recognising that it is just that, an illness, is paramount in healing.

If you suffer from SAD or 'Winter Blues' you can find some helpful articles linked below:


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