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 >

Thursday, 8 October 2020

How to find your sense of purpose in life

There have been numerous studies into the impact of having a clear direction in life and the conclusions are extremely interesting. Research has revealed that having a life purpose can lengthen your lifespan, improve your physical health, and even improve mental health issues.

The meaning of purpose can differ dramatically for each individual. For example, one person may view having a fulfilling career as entirely purposeful, whereas another could believe parenthood and bringing up a happy family will provide the ultimate fulfilment. However grand or simple a purpose may seem, it is evident that having a purpose can have a positive effect on your life. If you are struggling to determine what it is that would give you a sense of purpose, there are steps you can take to help you find it.

What does it mean to have a purpose in life?

Having a purpose in life means having an aim, whether it be a daily aim or a long-term goal. It could be as simple as having something to wake for each morning. Without such a goal your life may have no direction and you could find yourself feeling despondent and down. This, in turn, can lead to poor mental health, and bad physical health, especially if you fail to participate in any activities at all.

How having a life purpose can benefit others

Not only does being proactive have benefits for you as an individual, but your life purpose could also have a positive impact on others. Becoming a volunteer can help your community. Creating an organisation that helps people or animals can assist others in your immediate or wider communities. Even becoming more positive because you have found your life purpose can make you a more pleasant person to be around, which will affect the mood of others. It’s important to remember that a sense of purpose is unique to each of us, and you should not compare yours with anyone else’s.

How reflection can help you find your life’s purpose

There are questions that you can ask yourself that can help to find your purpose:
  • What am I passionate about?
  • For what would I like to be remembered?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What were my childhood ambitions?
  • What are my dreams now?
  • If I could spend one day doing anything, what would that be?
  • Who are my idols?
  • When were the happiest times in my life: who was I with and what was I doing?

Writing down the answers to these questions can provide a great start to finding your purpose.

Expand your horizons

You may not have experienced anything that piques your interest yet, which is why you should try new things.

  • Join a club – this can be online or in your community. Think about joining a book club, hiking group, writing group, or debating team.
  • Volunteer in your community – not only will you be helping people or animals, but you will experience new situations that could prove inspiring.
  • Research religions or spirituality – some people find that their purpose in life is associated with religion or spirituality. Contact local religious leaders or attend their place of worship to find out more about specific beliefs. 
  • Learn an instrument – it's never too late to learn a musical instrument and there are instruments to suit every budget. You could even find them in charity shops or online. Can't get out? You can teach yourself via online learning or books if necessary or you prefer.
  • Learn a language – learning a new language can be extremely fulfilling and can be self-taught. If you choose to attend a class, you also open the door to meeting new people with the same goal and it can be more fun.

If at first you don’t succeed....

Be patient with yourself and if one hobby or interest doesn’t pan out, try something else. Finding a purpose in life can be an extremely fun and interesting path which doesn’t necessarily have to be reached via a direct route.