Saturday, 24 October 2020

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, as it’s often known, is a type of depression that occurs at specific times of the year or during certain types of weather. Depression is a condition that differs very much from the occasional bouts of sadness we all may feel from time to time. When you experience depression, you can feel sad, worthless, and anxious for long periods of time. If your mood is severely affected by changes in weather, it can have a serious impact on all areas of your life. However, there are steps you can take to alleviate these symptoms. 

How do I know if I have SAD?

There are all different types and symptoms of depression and it’s important to ascertain the cause or causes in order to get the right treatment. Although symptoms can vary from person to person, these are just some of the signs that you could be suffering from SAD:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Noticeable changes in appetite - eating more or eating less
  • Loss of libido
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts – if you feel suicidal you should contact your health practitioner immediately

There are other symptoms and feelings associated with SAD, and if you’re uncertain why you're feeling this way, speak with your GP or other health practitioner.

What causes SAD?

It's thought that lack of sunlight is a contributory factor of SAD and that people with this disorder are likely to suffer significantly during the winter months. There are, however, some people that experience SAD during the warmer months too. It is thought in these cases that SAD may be a hereditary disorder. For those that experience seasonal affective disorder during darker seasons, it is believed that the lack of sunlight affects the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is part of the brain that contributes to:

  • Melatonin production – a hormone that makes you feel tired. Those with SAD may produce more than normal.
  • Serotonin production – often thought of as the 'feel good' hormone. Lack of serotonin can occur with lack of exposure to sunlight and lead to feeling depressed.
  • Your body clock – people usual rely on sunlight to assist with things such as when to wake up and when to go to sleep. When nights become longer and days shorter during winter, the body clock can be disrupted.

How to cope with SAD

The good news for those experiencing SAD is that there are measures you can take to alleviate symptoms and to make life a lot easier.

Get as much natural light as you can

As discussed above, sunlight is a significant factor in maintaining mood levels and it therefore makes sense to spend as much time as possible in natural sunlight. Set aside time each day to either sit outside or take a stroll during daylight hours. If you spend a lot of time indoors, make a point of sitting near a window that allows in natural light.

Light therapy

Since many of the symptoms of SAD can be attributed to lack of sunlight, artificial measures can be extremely helpful when you can’t access the real thing. Although the efficacy of light boxes has not be definitively proven, there are those that insist they improve symptoms of SAD. Light boxes mimic natural light and emit a steady flow of light which can be set to various times throughout the day. It is thought that they can help people who have trouble waking on winter mornings by mimicking the rising sun of dawn. Some people prefer to have a lightbox by them throughout the day as they find it steadies their mood.

Exercise in daylight

As helpful as many find light boxes, they’re no substitute for the real thing. The combination of authentic daylight and exercise can help increase mood levels. Exercise is renowned for assisting with the release of serotonin, and daily exercise will also make you healthier when combined with a good diet. Being physically healthy can help with feelings of sluggishness, especially if you are exercising in the sun, which is known to help with the production of melatonin.


Talking therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling are known to help with symptoms of SAD. CBT assists by helping patients create ways to change habits that they have associated with SAD. This therapy concentrates on the connection between thoughts and feelings, and physical responses to this and how negativity can result in a harmful cycle. CBT can help you devise positive actions and habits by breaking your problems into easier to handle smaller sections.

First Psychology is hosting a free webinar on 27 November 2020 on 'Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder During Lockdown' as part of its winter webinar series. Find out more and book a place >

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