Expats living in the Algarve are unlikely to suffer from SAD, but for around one in ten people in Northern Europe, it’s a serious and debilitating condition. Believed to be caused by lack of exposure to natural light, it can severely affect a sufferer’s quality of life.
Do you have the symptoms of SAD?
• General lack of energy
• Trouble sleeping
• Anxiety and panic attacks
• Prone to illness
These symptoms could be due to any number of medical conditions including one which is often overlooked as a cause: SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe at this time of the year.
The majority of people feel uplifted by long sunny days and it’s quite normal to feel a little miserable when the weather is cold and the days are dark, but some people experience a debilitating form of depression, along with a number of other unpleasant symptoms which seriously affect their quality of life.
The exact cause of SAD isn't fully understood, but it's believed to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year and is, therefore, more common among people who live in parts of the world where there are significant changes to daylight, temperature and weather between seasons.
Who is affected by SAD?
SAD affects adults and children and, in northern Europe, it’s estimated that as many as one in ten people experience some symptoms of SAD. It’s very rare to find people with symptoms of SAD living near the equator or in areas where daylight hours are long and bright all year round.
Studies have shown that sunlight can affect some of the brain's chemicals and hormones, but no one is certain what this effect is. One theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls mood, appetite and sleep, subsequently affecting how you feel.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Here’s a more comprehensive, although not exhaustive, list of the common signs of SAD:
• lack of energy
• concentration problems
• sleep problems
• general apathy
• panic attacks
• mood changes
• cheerfulness (hypomania) in spring and autumn
• prone to illness
• loss of interest in sex or physical contact
• social and relationship problems
• alcohol or drug abuse
Of course, having some or all of the above symptoms doesn’t mean you are suffering from SAD and you should consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis. But if you experience SAD symptoms for two or three years and no other underlying illness is detected, you are likely to receive a diagnosis of SAD.
There are a number of ways to treat SAD, including light therapy (also called phototherapy) – exposure to bright artificial light. There are ways that you can help yourself too:
• find time each day to spend time outdoors
• work in bright conditions, such as near a window
• take regular, moderate exercise or physical activity
• eat a well-balanced diet
• decorate your home in light colours, which reflect the light better
• try to take a holiday in a sunny place
• Make a permanent move to a brighter climate
Solutions to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Meravista.com has a suggestion which may help - move to the Algarve, where you’ll enjoy 10 hours of daylight each day during the autumn and winter months and up to 15 hours a day during the spring and summer, adding up to over 3,000 hours of sunshine each year. There’s plenty of information about moving to, and living in, the Algarve.
If you think you or a member of your family may be a sufferer, we advise you to consult a medical professional. For more information about SAD, you can visit SADA, a UK support organisation for people with SAD.
CLICK HERE to see a light-hearted look at a not-so-light-hearted problem may make you smile.