What is seasonal affective disorder and how to manage it

This article aims to give a brief introduction to seasonal affective disorder, explain some of the common signs of it, ways you can manage it on your own, as well as discussing how talking therapy can be helpful.

What is SAD?

Most of us will experience the impacts of changing seasons and it is normal to feel more cheerful or energetic when we have more light and sunshine or to feel that you wish to spend more time in bed during the winter months when it is colder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression which is experienced at particular times of the year. You are more prone to experience SAD if you live in a country where greater differences in temperature and levels of daylight occur in the transition of seasons.

SAD is usually most noticeable during the winter months, and is impacted by the loss of light and sunshine. However, some people may experience SAD in reverse and find that they have depressive symptoms during summer months. Within Europe it is estimated that probably 1 in 10 people will experience the symptoms of SAD. Regardless of the season or where you live, if you suffer from SAD, your mood and general mental health will be affected, as will your energy levels. This can lead to more serious symptoms of depression which can have a significant impact upon your day-to-day life.

What are the common signs of SAD?

There are many different symptoms of SAD, and it is possible you may experience all or some of them. Listed below are some of the signs you may be experiencing SAD.

  • A lack of energy for everyday tasks.
  • Difficulty in concentrating.
  • Trouble sleeping or waking up.
  • Feeling low, sad or guilty.
  • Feeling anxious or tense.
  • Mood swings or periods of hyperactivity or cheerfulness.
  • Overeating and craving carbohydrates.
  • Feeling irritable and not wishing to see people.
  • Being more prone to illness.

How can I manage SAD myself

In order to manage your SAD in the winter months, you have to in the first instance allow yourself to mourn for the loss of light and sunshine that your body needs and craves. Allowing yourself to admit you are missing something crucial will add to your ability to cope with the darker days. However, there is no hard and fast rule to how we manage and understand SAD, and it will vary from person to person, but there are some common ways in which you can assist yourself in dealing with the symptoms and effects listed below.

Get out during the day

Making the most of natural light is a very important tool in combating the effects of SAD, and is even more important during the winter months. This is not a cure for SAD because we know that even those who work outside during the winter can experience SAD to a lesser or greater extent. Make the most of the peak time of the day for the sun to be shining, which is usually around midday or lunch time.

Exercise and eat well

Keeping physically active at any time of the year is important; however this is crucial during the winter months. Of course, we may not always feel like getting up and going to the gym, swimming pool or going for a run, but it is things like this which make a huge difference to increasing energy levels and feelings of positivity. Finding a balance between eating the carbohydrates we all crave when experiencing SAD with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will provide a good balance in diet, increase energy levels as well as provide our bodies with vitamins and minerals which our bodies crave particularly during the winter months.

Being more social

It may sound obvious, but spending more time with loved ones, friends, family and pets really can assist with the impact which SAD can have on our lives. Doing something different to the usual routine with friends can assist us in feeling more outgoing, and allow us to concentrate on the good things and people we have in our lives.

Be kinder to yourself

Spend time giving back to yourself during the times when you find the feelings of SAD setting in. Find time to do things which make you happy, feel more content and invigorated. Try to remind yourself that the low thoughts and mood you experience are a result of the lack of light and sunshine which your body needs.

How therapy can help

Talking therapy can provide you with a warm and welcoming space where you can discuss openly the low feelings you are experiencing, no matter of the season or weather. The theme of feeling low in winter months is one which we all understand, however often our depressive feelings, thoughts and ideas are not always welcome to our friends. There can be a sense that we are burdening people with our SAD which can increase our feelings of isolation.

Talking therapy can be extremely useful in assisting you in identifying other factors or underlying reasons behind your SAD, and a therapist can help you to develop ways you can manage times when you are low or assist you in identifying the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and giver you practical ways to manage your symptoms.

Moving forward

It is inevitable that the seasons changing will affect us to a lesser or greater extent, and of course, there will be times when we feel as if the winter blues will last forever, but this is not the case. Where we may not be able to change our bodies natural need for sunlight and warmth, we can learn to manage and develop strategies by which we can manage to cope until we once again enjoy the sun. Through being more social, eating healthily and spending time giving back to ourselves, we will be able to see ourselves through until brighter days.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced Integrative Therapist who's worked with people to develop understanding of their changing feelings & thoughts, & has assisted people in working through periods of depression, anxiety or stress. He has assisted people in developing techniques to manage these issues. He also works with loneliness, bereavement and depression.

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