This Saturday, October 25th here in the UK, we put our clocks back by one hour, allowing us to have an extra hour of daylight in our mornings, but also making our evenings darker, longer and colder. For many of us this change compromises sleep quality and decreases cortisol production, a side effect of which can have a detrimental effect on mood. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of Major Depressive Disorder1 which affects sufferers seasonally, sometimes known as ‘winter blues’ due to its proliferation in the colder, darker months. It is especially severe between December and February. Research has shown that SAD affects as many as 29% of UK adults in the winter months.2

The NHS3 lists possible symptoms as:

  • A persistent low mood
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • Feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day
  • Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning

What causes SAD?

The full cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is not known, however it has been linked to a malfunction of the hypothalamus, caused by a lack of sunlight. This in turn can cause:

  • Reduced serotonin production which can increase feelings of depression
  • Increased melatonin production which can increase sleepiness levels
  • A disrupted circadian rhythm which in turn affects sleep and sleep quality 

For some sufferers, the symptoms will be manageable, however others will be more severe, impacting severely on day-to-day life. If the symptoms above sound familiar to you, you may want to consider seeing your GP to discuss ways to help you cope. 

Tara Best, qualified mindset and Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner has shared her recommendations of things you can do at home that may help, including

1. Gratitude

Start each day by telling yourself at least 5 things that you are grateful for. This will train your mind to look for the good in each day, which in turn will help to generate more good things. Doing this regularly will ‘reset’ your filter so that you subconsciously create things to be grateful for and focus on the positives in your day. 

2. Create light

Brighten up your living or workspace. Open your curtains each day for as long as possible, spend time near windows if possible, and you can even buy daylight light bulbs which are designed to ease SAD suffering. 

3. Spend time outdoors

Even if it’s raining. Getting some natural light has enormous benefits, as does fresh air and space. Taking just ten minutes a day (or more if you are able!) to step outside, breathe deeply and just be still will help to de-stress you and regroup when you are feeling low. 

4. Get it on paper

Journal your thoughts and feelings to help get the feelings out of your mind and onto paper. This could be a diary entry, random words or a drawing. Conveying how you are feeling through a different medium can help you recognise what you do and what you don’t have control over which can in turn help your mind see how to move forwards from a situation or feeling.

5. Plan something positive

What makes you happy? Plan an activity that you enjoy and make sure you always have something to look forward to. It might be a chat with a friend, it might be reading a new book, or it could even be a pamper night in. Whatever that thing is, get it in the diary!

6. Be mindful 

Always be aware of the story you are writing for yourself. If you tell yourself “I’m miserable”, “I hate winter” or “life isn’t good” every day, then that’s the tone you’re going to set for yourself. The power of a positive mindset is unbelievable and is essential in setting you up for success.

If you take these little steps each day, you will start to see a difference in your mood and your general mindset. Seasonal Affective Disorder is not an easy issue to deal with, so remember to be kind to yourself through these darker months, say goodbye to that dark cloud above your head and give yourself some much-needed self-care.

References: 

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/two-takes-depression/201811/daylight-saving-time-and-depression 

http://weathergroup.com/SAD%20research%20UK 

3, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/