FFF 131: Winter Blues, Are You Suffering From Seasonal Affective Disorder – with Fraser Smith


This week, Scott and Fraser Smith as they talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). What is it? How does it affect us? Who is more likely to experience it? Is it more prevalent in Scotland compared to the people in Norway? And what are ways to alleviate it? This episode is worth a listen because you might just resonate with the symptoms and it may be affecting you more than you thought.

Based in Glasgow, Fraser Smith is a Counseling Psychologist in Training at Glasgow Caledonian University. Fraser is the man behind GetPsyched, a blog platform and YouTube channel of the same name, featuring different topics and videos around psychology topics focused on psychology students and graduates. Psychological content can be hard to digest sometimes so he strives to create content that is easily digestible. Fraser is also a psychological counselor at a couple of organizations in Glasgow as well as a Psychology undergraduate tutor for a university in Glasgow.

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is when we experience low depressive moods or even the worsening of the symptoms based on the change in seasons. For instance, in the winter, the days are getting colder and shorter so the lack of sunlight can have repercussions for our moods and our depressive symptoms.

People higher north may be experiencing it more than people below but it’s commonplace for people’s mood to get larger in the winter times. This is not just based on the lack of sunlight but on the reducing temperature as well.

Symptoms of SAD

SAD is associated with low energy, low moods, and challenges in sleeping patterns. Its symptoms are pretty similar to a major depressive disorder such as loss of interest in the things you once enjoyed. Basically, it’s all things associated with depression in itself but it’s initiated with that change in season.

People Don’t Realize They Have It

To some degree, we’re all impacted by this. It’s very unlikely for people to see a therapist because their moods have changed based on season. Hence, SAD can be difficult to diagnose.

Stats show that 7%-10% of the UK population are affected by seasonal affected disorder, although this could change on a weekly basis. But Fraser believes we all suffer from it to some degree.

Does It Worsen the Farther North You Go

A large-scale study done in 2012 looked at a comparison between people living in Norway and people living in Ghana. Those living in Norway were suffering much greater degrees when winter came to depressive symptoms. This is a clear marker in how the changes in sunlight exposure and heat can have a really pronounced effect on depressive symptoms. And as they went farther north where for 4-5 months there is no sunlight, people were having major issues with their mood and energy.

Is it the Temp or Lack of Sunlight?

Sunlight exposure is the more pronounced when it comes to increasing SAD. And when you look at the treatment for SAD, one of the instigators is the lack of sunlight exposure.

SAD During Summer

SAD can have a winter onset and a summer onset. However, summer onset is very lacking in research and it’s not fully understood. But there are studies that talk about how excessive exposure or changes in heat can have pronounced impact to SAD symptoms.
In one of the summer in Iceland, they’ve had major heat wave and seen temperatures they’ve never seen before. As a result, there were spikes in people checking into therapy services.

People Who Are More Susceptible to SAD

Women are more susceptible to SAD as well as the elderly. It’s suggested this could have something to do with hormonal imbalance. Fraser, however, contends that it doesn’t mean it’s more pronounced for women. He thinks we’re all susceptible to it.

People who have higher issues with depression are much more susceptible to SAD. Fraser used to work at a brain injury rehab center and they found that in the winter months, people suffering from brain injuries suffered from SAD much more in the winter than any population he has worked with.

How to Alleviate the Symptoms

Light Therapy
This has been found to be most effective. It’s an exposure to artificial light for a period of 30-60 minute on a daily basis. Light therapy has been shown to improve your circadian rhythm (your body’s alarm clock) as well as your melatonin levels, the hormone that helps you get better sleep. This is something you can do on your own as long as you expose yourself to more artificial light.

Just be outside and have some light exposure even if it’s overcast outside. Going out as much as possible is very beneficial.

Bring Some Plants Indoor

You can also bring this into your office such as something as simple as bringing in plant life in your office. This may not be correlated to sun exposure, but being able to open your windows and let a bit of natural light in, along with some artificial light, this can help alleviate your symptoms

Walk More

Go out for a walk as this can have so many physical and mental benefits. Not to mention, you will be outside. People with depression are more likely to stay inside and be on their own and this only increases the symptoms. Once you start to move and walk outside, it’s a great remedy for these things.

  • What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
  • SAD symptoms
  • Are people affected by it more than they realize?
  • SAD can worsen the farther north you go
  • SAD worsens when there is lack of sunlight
  • Does it affect even in the summer?
  • People who are more susceptible to SAD
  • How to alleviate SAD symptoms
Quotes & Take-Aways

The days are getting colder and shorter so the lack of sunlight can have repercussions for our moods.

Symptomologies with seasonal affective disorder have very similar symptomologies when you look at things like major depressive disorder.

To some degree, we all are impacted by this.

It’s very unlikely for people to see a therapist because their moods have changed based on season.

7%-10% of the population in the UK are affected by seasonal affected disorder.

If you’re able to create an artificial environment where light is more readily available, things like melatonin and circadian rhythms improve.

Connect with Fraser:

Thanks for listening and the support – if you enjoyed this episode, I hope you can leave the podcast a rating and review on iTunes, and if you haven’t subscribed yet, this is the best time to do that too. This will help the show to get up in the rankings.

Scott Baptie

Scott is the owner and founder of Food For Fitness. He is a fat loss coach, speaker and fitness writer with a masters (MSc) degree in Applied Sports Nutrition.