How to spot the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the best ways to deal with it

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With Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) now affecting around 1 in 15 of us in the UK, it’s time we learn exactly what it is and how to deal with it.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. It is also known as ‘winter depression’ as that is when symptoms can be more apparent and at their worst. SAD can be particularly severe during December, January and February, but can affect people from as long as September to April.

It’s common for people to not even know they have it, and purely feel it’s simply just a feeling they have because of the winter months. Symptoms include: a persistent low mood, a loss of interest in everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day, sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning.

The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood but is often linked to the reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days in autumn and winter. This affects the production of melatonin and serotonin (the hormones that make you sleepy and affect your mood).

The symptoms can be so severe they can affect people in their day-to-day life. There is never a quick and easy solution to any mental illness, but there are ways to make it easier to deal with, and these can be just really small and simple changes.

Start with your daily routine and make yourself a schedule. Try and wake up and go to bed around the same time everyday, factor in when you are going to eat and try and eat at least three meals a day. Try and factor in exercise a few times a week, even when it’s cold getting fresh air can make you feel a bit better.

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If you have trouble waking up in the morning then get yourself an alarm clock that wakes you up gradually with light. This will keep your body clock in check and hopefully help you wake up in a better mood. Another way to boost your exposure to sunlight is by getting a light box that simulates sunlight exposure, by spending some time sitting by this it’ll boost your serotonin levels. A final way to boost your sunlight exposure is by taking vitamin B6, also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, which can help boost low serotonin and melatonin levels. These all attempt to combat the idea SAD is a result of the reduced sunlight in the winter months.

Self-care is also important, but it’s not always facemasks and bubble baths, it can be simple things like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, taking the bins out or doing the dishes. This can be especially important if you’ve been finding it hard to get out of bed.

Social media can also have a negative affect on your mental health. People rarely share about their down days, focusing on only posting their highlights. This is where social media can start to become a toxic environment. You may find yourself wishing you had somebody else’s life, which is unhealthy, so unfollowing accounts that make you feel bad is a good act of self-care as it’s important to remind yourself nobody’s life is ever as perfect as it may seem on their aesthetically-pleasing Instagram account.

If you are finding your symptoms to be severe then talking is extremely beneficial. This may start with opening up to the people around you, but also by visiting a GP. Opening up can be the first step to getting back on track. A GP can assess you properly and prescribe the right treatment for you. Remember, talking is the most important part of recovery.

If you find Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life it’s important to get help and start talking about it, don’t be afraid to reach out.

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