For many of us, the change in seasons is merely a matter of adjusting to the cold, getting a new wardrobe, and opting for nights in instead of braving the chill to go out.

However for others, the transiton could have big effects on their emotions. How can you tell when it’s more than just the usual winter blues and if you might actually have SAD?

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SAD is the acronym for Seasonal Affective Depression and it is a kind of depression that people experience during a particular season; usually autumn or winter. The feelings of dreariness and depression are said to be caused by the changes in weather. In other words, the change from sunnier, longer days to the short, grey days that winter brings has an effect on your frame of mind and the chemicals in your brain.

While there are people who generally get sad from time to time during the colder months of the year, SAD is a more serious issue than occasional blues. According to clinical psychologist, Garret Barnwell, “when the sadness becomes deep and pervasive, struggling to lift over a number of days, […] one may be experiencing a depressive episode.” 

One of the ways in which you can take note of how the seasonal change is affecting your mood is to pay attention to how significantly your habits and moods are different to those of the previous season. It’s not just a matter of not wanting to go out because of the cold, but rather a matter of feeling unenthusiastic and reluctant to do anything due to consistently low and depressed moods. Other symptoms of this depression include loss of energy, fatigue, social withdrawal from others, overeating and sleeping during certain seasons of the year, says Barnwell.

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Just like many other mental illnesses, SAD is one that can be treated in several ways, including going to see a therapist. In addition to this, “lifestyle interventions such as prescribing exercise and outdoor activities that expose people to more natural light and decrease stress levels may be complementary,” Barnwell adds. Here are ways in which you could treat SAD:

  • Get more light. Being outside during the day when the weather is warmer could help lift your mood, and ultimately trigger the chemicals in your brain that are responsible for a happier temperament. An alternative would be to sit close to a bright lamp or source of light as often as you can.
  • Get a prescription for antidepressants. These are designed to balance the chemicals in your body that are responsible for depression and anxiety. They might be necessary if therapy doesn't work completely.
  • Get active. Instead of opting to stay in bed all day, get out and get busy. Exercise is a great way to encourage the release of endorphins, which make you feel energised and cheerful. Running on a treadmill or joining a dance class will definitely improve your mood.
  • Get talking. One of the reasons why mental illnesses prevail is because we don't open up about them to those who want to help us. Speak up about how you feel and what you're going through, whether to a professional or a friend. Avoid suffering in silence. 

If you suspect that you might be going through a depressive period, you should seek help immediately. 

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