It’s no secret that as the seasons change, so can our moods. But, for many, these transitions throughout the year aren’t just about adjusting to cooler temperatures or shorter (and much darker!) days – it’s about battling the significant emotional and physical challenges brought on by seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
In this article, you’ll find helpful tips on how to cope with seasonal affective disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, can be defined as a form of depression that occurs at roughly the same time each year, typically in autumn and winter, when the weather is colder and the daylight hours are shorter.
SAD is not the winter blues. It is a diagnosed form of depression. However, the key differentiator to other forms of depression is that SAD is typically directly correlated with the changes in seasons, with symptoms becoming more apparent at roughly the same time each year.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s believed to be related to a seasonal pattern and the reduced level of sunlight, leading to disturbances in the body’s internal clock, which is what helps us regulate sleep-wake patterns and mood.
For some people, this decrease in sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, and an increase in melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, both of which can contribute to symptoms of depression.
Common SAD Symptoms
Symptoms of SAD are very similar to general depression and include:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
- Lack of energy.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Changes in sleep patterns (such as sleeping too little or too much).
- Changes in appetite or weight.
- A loss of interest in activities.
- Social withdrawal.
- Suicidal thoughts.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?
Light therapy (phototherapy) is known to be helpful for those learning how to cope with SAD symptoms. It involves exposure to bright light that mimics natural sunlight, which helps regulate the body’s internal clock and reduce depressive symptoms.
Other treatments to manage SAD diagnoses can include medication, such as antidepressants, and forms of cognitive therapy, which can help address negative thoughts and behaviours contributing to depression.
Our Advice on How to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you find this time of year particularly tough on your mental health, know that you’re not alone – and there are effective strategies to manage low mood and make the symptoms feel a little more manageable.
Below are six practical tips to help you cope with seasonal affective disorder.
Maximise Your Exposure to Natural Light
As we highlighted above, one of the main causes of SAD is the reduced level of sunlight in autumn and winter. So, to combat this, make a conscious effort to soak up as much natural light as possible.
We know this can be hard to do when the days are dark – but start by opening curtains and blinds immediately when you’ve woken up to let the sunlight flood your space.
In addition to the above, consider rearranging your workspace so that you sit near a window. If possible, step outside for a brief walk in the morning or during your lunch break. The natural light, even on a cloudy day, can significantly improve your mood and energy levels.
Consider Investing In a SAD Lamp
For those days when sunlight really is scarce, light therapy can be an effective alternative.
SAD lamps are known to be effective, as they mimic natural sunlight, which can help reset your internal clock. This will help you regulate sleep, mood, and appetite. Exposure to the light from a SAD lamp can also boost serotonin levels, often referred to as the “happy hormones,” helping to improve mood and energy.
Try to Stay Active
Physical activity is known to be an extremely powerful mood booster! And although the winter season brings cold weather that isn’t always pleasant to be in, even moderate exercise or something as little as a 30-minute walk can have a significant impact.
So, if the weather permits, outdoor exercise can double the benefits of combining physical activity with exposure to natural light. On colder or rainy days, consider indoor activities (e.g. yoga, pilates, or a home workout).
Maintain a Routine
Keeping a regular schedule can help stabilise your mood and everyday health. Try to wake up, eat, work, and sleep at the same time every day.
This regularity in sleeping patterns can help your body’s internal clock adjust to the season and improve your sleep quality and mood. Consistent routines around meal times, exercise, and downtime can also provide a sense of normalcy and control – which can be particularly comforting when SAD symptoms are at their most heightened.
Stay Connected to Your Support Network
Isolation can increase feelings of depression, making it essential to maintain social connections that matter to you. Even when you don’t feel like it.
Reach out to friends and family for support, whether it’s a phone call or a chat over coffee. Chances are, you’ll feel much better after seeing your loved ones.
Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress and anxiety, common companions of SAD.
These practices encourage you to focus on keeping you firmly in the present moment and your physical sensations, helping to break the cycle of negative thoughts and worries. Many free resources and apps (e.g. Headspace) can guide you through these techniques, making it easy to incorporate them into your daily routine.
Seek Professional Help Today
If your symptoms are severe or don’t improve with self-care measures, seek professional help. A mental health professional can offer a diagnosis and discuss treatment options with you, which may include medication, therapy, or a combination of treatments tailored to your needs.
Remember, it’s always okay to ask for help, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you go through this time of year. If you have any questions or are considering support options, reach out to us today, and our team will do everything they can to help.