Winter Wellbeing: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

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As the evenings draw in and leave fewer daylight hours throughout winter, some people can be left feeling like they’re lacking energy and enthusiasm. If this sounds and feels familiar, you could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

While you should always contact a doctor for professional advice, in this guide we’ll outline the signs of SAD and suggest some preventative steps to take over the next few months. With up to 6% of adults in the UK living with a low mood over 40% of the calendar year, it’s important to raise awareness.

How does SAD differ from depression?

Although SAD differs from clinical depression, many of its characteristics are shared. Patients with SAD experience depressive episodes alongside other physical and emotional symptoms triggered by a lack of exposure to natural light. These could include:

  • Chronic oversleeping, or otherwise disrupted sleep
  • Craving carbohydrate-rich foods
  • Decreased libido
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Withdrawal from social activities

Because of their similarities, SAD has mistakenly been regarded as a ‘lighter’ form of depression in the past – but that’s not the case. Symptoms of SAD and the depressive episodes in which they present themselves just have a seasonal trigger.

How can SAD be treated?

Since many of the symptoms raised by SAD can be worsened by a lack of daylight, advice starts with spending time outside – despite the cold. Heading out with friends, joining a sports team or even swimming in the sea could all create routes to connecting more with others and with yourself.

If you’re not keen on the idea of cold walks at home, why not take a short holiday to catch some winter sun? As well as topping up your vitamin D, you’re likely to boost your serotonin levels and return feeling replete. Just make sure you’re financially prepared before making a last-minute booking.

Getting help for a mental health issue can be the bravest, most challenging step to take. If you know someone going through difficulties this winter, being a supportive friend is all you need to do. Check in on your loved ones and encourage them to spend time doing things they enjoy.

Should SAD be taken seriously?

Throughout the winter months, flexible policies should be introduced to allow employees to spend time outdoors to get that vital sunlight. 

From employers to family members, more people should regard SAD as a genuine, debilitating illness.