When the weather gets colder, the nights seem longer and your motivation to get out and about can seem to constantly evade you. Feeling less than enthused about the colder nights is common, but feeling very, very bleak during Winter might be something more.

What could it be?

SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, has a seasonal pattern – you’re fine during the warmer months, but as the cold closes in, life feels too hard and all you want is hot buttered toast in bed with a Netflix marathon.

What are the symptoms?

Just like depression – feeling hopeless, lacking energy, changes in sleeping or eating patterns and a loss of pleasure in things you might enjoy are all symptoms of SAD. With SAD, you may also feel heavy in your limbs, you might want to sleep all the time, including through your alarm, and carbohydrates are becoming your one true love. Speaking of love, intimacy might also be very unappealing.

What causes SAD?

Although more research is needed into the cause, medical professionals think that it’s related to lack of sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. According to Grant Blashki, Beyond Blue's Lead Clinical Adviser, the main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly.

Sunlight affects our hormones, but some people are more susceptible than others. Lack of sunlight can mean our bodies produce less melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time for sleep. Less sun could also mean less serotonin, a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep. Finally, sunlight affects our body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) – so lower sunlight levels during the winter can throw off your body clock.

I think I have SAD, what do I do?

First port of call is your trusted GP or other health professional, who may diagnose SAD if you have had the same symptoms during winter for a couple of years. SAD is very rare in Australia and more likely to be found in countries with shorter days and longer periods of darkness, such as in the cold climate areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

There are also changes you can make to your routine 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, yoga (check out YouTube for some free videos), 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 person.

Related reading: Depression vs Sadness

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