Seasonal Affective Disorder and how to combat it

Do you welcome the change of seasons or fear the cold, dark days? While some relish the opportunity for festivity and cosiness, winter can leave others feeling down. The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that around 3 in every 100 Britons suffer from ‘significant winter depressions’ – or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is usually more severe in the colder months and includes symptoms such as low moods, loss of energy and motivation, sleep problems and weight gain. It’s linked to getting less sunlight, which can affect melatonin and serotonin production and disrupt your body clock. Melatonin is a hormone that makes you sleepy, while serotonin affects mood.

Thankfully there are a number of ways to prevent, treat or relieve SAD which we’ll discuss below.

Manage your lifestyle

As with many mental health issues, tweaking aspects of your lifestyle can help things improve.

Aim to get as much natural sunlight as possible – especially while working from home – and do what you can to make your home and workspace bright and airy.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet and take steps to avoid stress by talking to loved ones, managing your money and exercising. Sport can especially help to combat feelings of self-doubt and sluggishness.

Use light therapy

Light therapy involves sitting close to what’s known as a ‘light box’ for short bursts each day, usually around half an hour in the morning. These devices produce a bright light that simulates the effects of sunlight and can help to balance your melatonin and serotonin levels.

Many report significant improvements in mood after trying light therapy, though it can cause mild side effects.

Try counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy

There are a number of psychosocial treatments that could help you overcome SAD.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is designed to challenge how you think and help you find ways to change negative mental patterns. Counselling is a more traditional form of therapy involving talking about your worries to uncover deeper issues.

Both typically involve a series of sessions with trained professionals and are often recommended for treating depression.

Consider medication

As SAD is a seasonal depression, taking antidepressants over winter could help to relieve symptoms. SSRIs are the preferred option as they can increase serotonin without adding to feelings of sleepiness.

Antidepressants don’t work for everyone and the evidence in favour of them in cases of SAD isn’t comprehensive. However, it could still be worth speaking to your GP about starting medication if some of the options above aren’t suitable or haven’t worked.

If you think you may be experiencing SAD, consider the options above to improve your outlook this winter.