Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder
Do you experience low mood as the months grow colder and we enter the winter time? People often say that their mood dips in the winter months due to shorter days and colder temperatures. But for a number of people, this feeling can be intensified due to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes with the seasons - people usually report that depressive symptoms heighten during the winter months, but there are some who experience this in summer. The NHS provide a list of symptoms:
a persistent low mood
a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
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
craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
If you think you may have SAD, if you are in the UK, visit your GP to gain further guidance and assessment.
What can you do to combat SAD?
There are a number of recommended ways to try combat experiencing SAD, including:
Try to plan ahead: if you have time before the days get shorter, try to get things sorted that you know will become a struggle as winter starts. Things like batch cooking and freezing meals, sorting any finances where possible and preparing for the Christmas holidays can save you energy and worry down the line. This may not always be achievable but even small things can save concern at a later date.
Get as much light as possible: Researchers attribute much of SAD with diminishing sunlight which can affect serotonin production, the chemical linked to mood, appetite and sleep. Where possible, get out each day for a walk, aiming to do this at the time when there is the most sun available. Also try to sit near a window when possible, when working or reading for example, to try and get extra exposure. For those who cannot do this, or feel the need to top up, there are many SAD light boxes you can purchase which are reported to increase serotonin levels.
Get plenty of vitamin D: This is usually gained through being in the sun, which becomes harder to achieve between October and March. Try balance this out by eating foods such as oily fish, red meat or egg yolks, certain types of mushrooms, cheeses and orange juice.
Take time for yourself: Self-care is important at any point through the year, but prioritise it once the winter cold sets in. Find what brings you peace and schedule time to engage with it. You may love to have a warm bath, you may enjoy reading, creating art or knitting. Perhaps exercise keeps you motivated, or talking with loved ones. Try to maintain connection even if this is hard and gain support for the months where you feel lower.
How would counselling help someone experiencing SAD?
As with any concern that brings someone to counselling, talking therapies provide the client with a private and safe space to talk about the concerns they have. SAD may feel frustrating due to the way that it recedes and returns annually. This can also be anxiety provoking in autumn. If you are feeling symptoms of depression due to your circumstance, or your past, counselling can support you to work through your experiences.
Other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have been shown to support clients in challenging thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that are holding them back and re-evaluating their situation and life. If you feel you need support, there are many charities, organisations and private counsellors and therapists who could support you.
Adam Rothwell MBACP is a registered person-centred counsellor in private practice. He sees clients online and in person in the South Manchester, Stockport and Cheshire East areas of North West England.