The days are shorter, the wind is tougher, the rain is heavier, and the cold is crisper. Let’s face it; winter is on its way. However there is more to winter and the brisker months than just seasonal differences. Although feelings of anxiety, laziness, hopelessness and a loss of concentration are occasional traits of a student, they may also be symptoms of harsh winter time blues or in more scientific terms S.A.D; Seasonal Affective Disorder.
The term was first introduced in 1984 by Norman E Rosenthal a scientist and psychiatrist alongside his team of the National Institute of Mental Health. Rosenthal having grown up in South Africa and having then moved to Northeastern America had begun to discover a noticeable transformation in his mood and energy level.
He owed such drastic changes to a lack of sunlight in the wintery months. Even though in the past researchers doubted the authenticity of the illness, the term today has been commonly accepted in science discourses.
Due to the need for further studies many still fail to fully comprehend the causes of S.A.D. However one theory associates its effects with a part of our brain called hypothalamus, a zone which controls mood appetite and sleep, presumed to be stimulated by light exposure. Those who suffer from S.A.D, a lack of light and a difficulty with specific brain chemicals and hormones may cause their hypothalamus from functioning correctly. Thus interfering with normal levels of appetite, mood and sleep.
Another theory connects its causes with a hormone called melatonin which delays our body clocks. It is assumed that when people with S.A.D experience lack of light exposure their bodies produce more of these hormones causing such uncompromising symptoms. This mental illness generally initiating in September and lasting as long as up to March, is most susceptible amongst young adults. It is believed that the average person will experience S.A.D in their early twenties.
Despite it being naturally common for most to sleep more and feel less energetic in dimmer and colder weather, it is not natural to feel severe depression that can greatly affect our day to day lives. About 20% of people suffer from emotional changes in fall and winter, but only approximately 2% suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to Mind, the charity for better mental health, the list of symptoms can from vary from loss of concentration, irregular sleep patterns and weight gain caused by over eating (especially carbohydrates).
Additionally, another sign is having a lowered immune system. Others include high levels of depression, where you often feel anxious, hopeless or guilty for no apparent reason. Feeling a lack of libido and participating in anti-social behaviour and displaying a lack of interest in people and in life are among other frequent symptoms.
There are various treatments available, the most popular being light therapy, which consists of exposure to specific wavelengths of light for a set period of time and at specific times of the day. This technique was developed by Rosenthal himself and has been proven successful in combatting the negative effects of S.A.D.