Tips for living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
“Don’t forget to fall back...” - the timely phrase heard year after year to help us to remember that daylight saving time ends and our clocks need to be set an hour earlier. But at a time when the sun already doesn’t rise until 8am and sets earlier and earlier by the day, for some ‘falling back’ into darker days is the last thing they want to do.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which tends to happen throughout the autumn and winter months as the days get shorter. The lack of natural light can have a big impact on those who experience SAD; the condition can really impact mood, concentration, appetite and motivation.
SAD – who’s affected?
Anybody can be affected by SAD. However, those who live in the more northern areas above the equator tend to experience the effects more. According to the Mental Health Foundation, SAD affects around 1 in 15 people in the UK between September and April, and most commonly starts between the ages of 18 and 30.
Symptoms are very similar to that of depression, including:
- Feeling lethargic
- Reduction or increase in appetite
- Feeling very low throughout the day
- Disrupted sleeping pattern (insomnia is common)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless
Dr Natasha Bijlani, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton states: "People who suffer from SAD tend to crave carbohydrate-rich, sugary foods. Such foods lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and elevation of mood, but this is usually short-lived and followed by a rapid lowering of mood."
Five tips on how to live with SAD
1. Get as much natural light as possible – when at work or at home during the day, try and sit close to a window and make your environment as naturally bright as possible. If you can, head outside for a break, and think about using light bulbs that mimic natural daylight.
2. Exercise outdoors and eat well – as well as getting your natural light, going outdoors, being active and eating foods that are rich in a variety of vitamins is a winning combination to help to ward off the symptoms of depression. Exercising produces endorphins in the brain (feelings of happiness), so try to take a walk at lunchtime, play a sport with friends - be active in a way which you enjoy.
3. Be sociable – it can be very tempting to sit indoors and get cosy for the weekend, but planning an evening or afternoon out with friends or relatives can be a really good way to give structure to your day and avoid loneliness and negative thoughts or feelings.
4. Don’t sleep in too late – we’ve all been there. The working week can take its toll, especially at this time of year, so truly savouring a rare lie in may seem like a great idea. But during the autumn and winter months staying in bed too long will limit your exposure to light, and your eyes need to take in light to withhold serotonin (a chemical in the brain which ‘lifts’ your mood).
5. Be honest with yourself – don’t keep saying “I’m fine” if you’re experiencing symptoms regularly and they’re starting to have a negative effect on your life. Speak to your GP for further help and advice.
Dr Bijlani explains: “Some patients may benefit from antidepressant medication and talking treatments, such as psychotherapy, which help sufferers accept their illness and learn coping strategies.”