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Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is S.A.D?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was formally recognised as a variant of depression in the 1980s, although The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that records of people suffering from low mood in the darker months go back as far as the 1800s.

It typically begins and ends at the same time each year and tends to deteriorate as the winter months progress. It affects an estimated 7% of the UK population every year, 6 – 35% of sufferers requiring hospitalisation at some point and many spending over 40% of the year struggling with significant symptoms of depression. Both children and adults can be affected and it can run in families. It affects women more frequently than men and is more prevalent in populations further from the equator.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty waking in the morning / need for more sleep
  • Decreased energy / feeling lethargic
  • Craving carbohydrates (e.g. cakes, flours, jams, preserves,bread and potato products).
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased libido
  • Withdrawal from family, friends and previously enjoyed activities
  • Depression / anxiety / irritability
  • Physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, palpitations, aches and pains)

What causes SAD?

Research has not as yet uncovered the specific cause of SAD, however a variety of factors are thought to play a part:

  • Biological Clock (circadian rhythm). The decrease in sunlight over the autumn and winter months may disrupt our internal clock, resulting in symptoms of depression
  • Serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight may also cause a drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a natural brain chemical (neurotransmitter) which is important in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep.It makes us feel happy, motivated and enthusiastic and also supports memory, concentration and learning.
  • Melatonin Levels. Reduced sunlight may also cause a reduction in melatonin, a hormone which is produced when it gets dark and makes us feel ready to sleep.

If lack of light was the only cause of SAD however, it is likely that we would see more people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it is likely that other factors are involved.

How can Solution Focused Hypnotherapy help?

Solution focused hypnotherapy focuses on the thought process that cause or contribute to many conditions that affect our emotional wellbeing, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. This approach encourages people to think in new and more positive ways and in doing so can stimulate the production of serotonin, an important factor in the onset and subsequent management of this disorder. By means of imagery as well as suggestion, solution focused hypnotherapy helps people to change aspects of their behaviour and refocus their thoughts in more positive ways, creating a more relaxed and content state of mind. In doing so, it can help to counteract symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Our brains have a tendency to refer to previous patterns of behavior – this is important for our survival but is not always helpful in non-life threatening situations. In addition, our subconscious mind, which is responsible for an estimated 95% of our behavior and thought processes, cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. This means that if last winter we became depressed and withdrawn, when the nights start to draw in this year, our brains will refer back to this behavior pattern, decide that it worked (i.e. we survived) and will therefore do the same again unless challenged. As the winter approaches, we may well remember and remind ourselves consciously of what last winter was like and this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Solution focused hypnotherapy works by rewriting the behaviourial patterns stored in our brains in a positive way.

Clients are often relieved to learn that there are different ways that the symptoms of SAD can be managed and actually enjoy the process which focuses on the positive aspects of living and moving forward, rather than focusing on the past and problems.


When to see a doctor

Hypnotherapy is not a cure or replacement for medical intervention however and outcomes do vary. Medical advice should be sought if you feel down for days at a time, if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

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