Although autumn officially started on 23 September this year* the clocks going back really emphasises the change of season.
While many of us welcome the autumn display of colour outdoors, some of us can struggle with the impact of shorter days on our emotional wellbeing.
If your mood has dipped recently or you find yourself more irritable than usual, you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD ‘is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern’ says the NHS.
In addition to those mentioned above, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can also include: feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness; low self-esteem; tearfulness; and feeling stressed or anxious.
Treating seasonal affective disorder
SAD is probably caused by a lack of sunlight, which prevents part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly and reduces the production of the hormone serotonin.
Serotonin influences our mood, appetite and sleep; too little of it can make us depressed.
Given that boosting production of serotonin can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD, treatment recommended by the NHS includes getting as much natural sunlight as possible, perhaps by taking a short walk at lunchtime or getting plenty of exercise outdoors during daylight.
Sunlight and vitamin D
Research suggests that a lack of vitamin D plays a role in depression (see Changes in vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in later life in England) and also in seasonal affective disorder (see What to Know About Vitamin D and Mental Health).
We obtain vitamin D not only from some foods and supplements, but also through exposure to the sun. Getting outside is therefore important, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we need more exposure to sunlight in autumn and winter than in spring and summer (as much as two hours, compared to just 10-20 minutes, according to research reported in How much sun is good for our health?)
Seeking professional help
The NHS also suggests that some people might find it helpful to get professional counselling and psychotherapy.
Harriet Bowyer, a Lecturer in Applied Psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, also supports therapy as an effective treatment for SAD (see: Seasonal depression: why it happens – and how to manage the symptoms).
At MTS Psychological Health, I offer psychological support to people experiencing mental health issues. I can help reduce symptoms of recurrent anxiety and depression through face-to-face consultations or online.
To book a consultation with me in Chester, Heswall, Mold or via Zoom, please get in touch.
* Met Office: When does autumn start?