As the nights draw in, the weather becomes cold and grey and the summer seems like a distant memory, many people find themselves struggling with a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It is thought to affect up to 6% of the UK population and although it is a disorder that major health organisations recognise, many people go undiagnosed.
Like other forms of depression, the intensity of the symptoms can vary from person to person, but they include lack of interest in life, a low mood, loss of libido, anxiety, insomnia and lethargy. The effects of SAD are said to be more severe between late September until March or April and are at their worst during the typically cold and dark months of November, December and January. There is no specific age of onset of SAD, but it is more common in individuals between the ages of 20 and 30. And whether we suffer from this or not, when it's freezing outside and we're feeling low, this undoubtedly has a knock-on effect on our dating and love lives.
SAD is sometimes called 'winter depression' and while the exact cause is not known, it is thought to be linked to reduced sunlight, which has an effect on the chemicals and hormones in the brain. One theory is that light stimulates the hypothalamus - the part of the brain, which controls moods and appetite.
Awareness of SAD has increased dramatically and last year the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) reported that more people than ever had complained of symptoms of fatigue, irritability, low self-esteem and oversleeping. However, a study by Oregon State University this year found that that people may be overestimating the impact that seasons have on depression in the general population and most of us. While many of us feel seasonal change on moods and behaviour and dislike the cold, dark months, the lead author Dr David Kerr was keen to stress that while we may not have as much fun and spend more time indoors, this isn't the same as the signs associated with clinical depression, such as long-term problems with appetite, sleep and a feeling of hopelessness. He said that the study did not rule out the clinically depressed SAD sufferers and that cognitive behavioural therapy and light box therapy might relieve symptoms but most people simply dislike the cold and dark. There is no doubt though that the short days and cold weather affects us all in the form of 'winter blues', whether we suffer from SAD or not.
Winter Dating Habits
When we questioned our members about their dating habits during the winter months, 16% of women revealed that they would rather snuggle up the sofa; in part because it is freezing outside but also because programmes like The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Homeland are on our screens - apparently watching the shows on iPlayer just isn't the same as catching them live.
23% of our male members and 28% of our female members admit that they don't really feel like venturing far or being very inventive when it comes to dating, so they often choose a favourite venue or one that is nearby. When we questioned them further most of our members gave the same answer: the freezing, pitch black evenings made them want to curl up of the sofa and then get an early night, rather than have a big night out.
However, members of both sexes continue to use the site to meet people and plan dates during these months, so it's not that they are not interested in dating - the 'winter blues' merely stops them from dating as actively as they would do if it was summer.
However, we do see an increase in dating as Christmas approaches. It seems that the festive mood, sparkling lights, and endless parties dampen the effects of 'winter blues' as people arrange dates and find love. Some of the top dates during the festive months include open Christmas markets, city centres and believe it or not, pantomimes.
So although the winter months with their extreme temperatures and darker evenings can have a negative effect on our moods in relation to dating, especially if you are affected by SAD, the festive period and Christmas spirit negates this and helps brings us closer together.
Brett Harding is the Managing Director at Lovestruck, a website dedicated to online dating and bring people together. While for many, dating seems harder when it is dark and cold outside, Christmas is the perfect time for exploring new romantic possibilities.