Health Tips

How to cope with seasonal affective disorder

With the days getting shorter and the cold weather creeping in, millions of people across the UK begin experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. 

According to the NHS, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects around 2 million people in the UK, and it can have a significant impact on day-to-day life. 

As we look ahead to the winter months, find out what you can do to manage the symptoms of SAD. 

What is SAD? 

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during a certain season. The disorder is often referred to as ‘winter depression’ as it most commonly takes place during the colder months. However, in rarer cases, people can experience symptoms during the summer and start to feel better as the seasons get colder. 

In most cases, SAD begins in autumn or winter, when the days become shorter, and lasts until spring or the beginning of summer. 

While the exact cause of SAD is unclear, it is believed that the disorder impacts people most often in winter. This is due to the shorter days and less exposure to sunlight. 

What does SAD feel like? 

The symptoms of SAD are very similar to depression and can make you feel as though you are a different person during your affected seasons. 

The most common symptoms include: 

  • Low mood
  • Lack of energy and tiredness during the day
  • Losing interest in things that you used to enjoy
  • Finding it difficult to get up in the morning and sleeping more than usual
  • Feelings of hopelessness

You may also find yourself craving carbohydrates and overeating, which can lead to weight gain. Some people may experience mild symptoms, such as finding it more difficult to get up on dark mornings. For others, it can have a significant effect on their daily life.

Who does SAD affect?

While people generally start to get symptoms of SAD in their 20s and 30s, it can affect people of any age, even children. 

According to Bupa, women are around four times more likely to have SAD than men. 

How to manage SAD 

Seasonal affective disorder can make you feel hopeless and unmotivated, but there are a number of things you can do to help yourself cope. Here are a few steps you can take to help yourself feel better during periods of SAD. 

  • Exercise outside Exercise can be a great mood booster if you suffer from SAD. Being active boosts the serotonin level in your brain. Making the most of natural light is also a good way to tackle symptoms, try taking regular walks outside to soak in the daylight.
  • Practice mindfulness Daily relaxation techniques can help manage your stress and let go of negative feelings. Incorporate some mindfulness and breathing techniques into your daily routine to help yourself de-stress.
  • Dedicate time to self-care Set time aside to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s watching your favourite films or going for a walk with a friend, carving out time for self-care is important to help lift your spirits.
  • Invest in a light therapy box Some people find that light therapy improves their symptoms, as light boxes mimic sunlight to replace the lack of light in winter. Spend around 30 minutes to one hour sitting by a light box each morning to start seeing improvements. There is emerging evidence that taking Vitamin D3, which we make in our skin when exposed to sunlight, can also help.
  • Speak to your GP If your symptoms are affecting your daily life, make an appointment with your GP. They will be able to recommend suitable treatment options for you, such as antidepressants or cognitive behavioural therapy.

If you’re struggling with low mood, we can help. We provide counselling services to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as complementary therapies such as aromatherapy massage to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. Get in touch with us to find out more.

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