Could You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

How to spot it and treat it too

As the days get shorter and colder, it's normal to have a dip in mood, reduced energy levels, and crave calorie-laden foods. But for some, the change in weather can trigger a mild form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“For a long time it was believed that was purely psychological – something that was going on in our head, but science now suggests it’s actually a medical condition,” explains Dr Andrew Rochford on The Living Room.

It’s estimated that one in 300 Australians experience the condition each year. Symptoms include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, appetite changes and weight gain.

While the exact cause remains unclear, Beyond Blue says it’s probably related to the variation in light exposure during winter. The good news is you don’t have to succumb to “The Winter Blues” – if you take action.

Here, Dr Rochford shares his top tips to overcome sadness and put more spring in your step.

It's vital to keep active outdoors during winter. Picture: Getty.
Stay active outdoors

While it can be difficult to get motivated, Dr Rochford says it’s important to keep active outdoors during winter. This produces feel-good endorphins in your brain that improve mood and productivity.

“We know the colder time of the year is when we’re most likely to crave those fatty foods and put on extra weight. So getting outside on a sunny winter’s day is a great way to burn those extra kilos and make sure you feel good about yourself when summer comes around,” he says.

Increase intimacy

One of the reasons why holding hands and hugging feels good to us is that these behaviours elevate our levels of feel good hormones. So never underestimate the power of a hug – and give your loved one a cuddle.

“Although hugging a stranger isn’t as effective as hugging a loved one, it’s been shown to increase levels of oxytocin and serotonin – the feel good chemicals. So on a grey, gloomy winter’s day, a cuddle is exactly what we need,” he advises.

Hug someone for an instant lift in mood. Picture: Getty.
Connect with others

Make an effort to connect with people – don’t hibernate like a bear. Winter is a great time to dress up and enjoy the company of others.

“There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t enjoy a night out with friends in the winter months just as you do in the summer months,” Dr Rochford explains. “It’s about being motivated, lifting your mood and embracing the season.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, call Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 131 114.