Seasonal affective disorder affects around 3 in 100 people in the UK every year — here are some tips to combat it.

As the days grow shorter and the nights get longer, you may find yourself with a persistent low mood, a feeling of sadness or sleeping longer than normal. These are a few symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder which you may be experiencing.

Symptoms of SAD

The NHS say these are common symptoms for those experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • 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

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.

What causes SAD?

Official NHS guidance states, “The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.

“The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the following,

  1. Production of melatonin — melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels.
  2. Production of serotonin — serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
  3. Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) — your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.”

Tips to managing SAD

Managing the symptoms for SAD can vary, depending on your main symptoms.

Light therapy is a common and popular measure, thanks to the array of alarm clocks on the market which are equipped with LED light to mimic the sun. Simply set your alarm and have the clock gradually wake you up with a light mimicking the sunrise.

You can also buy an LED light to accompany you while you work, as the day grows darker. Some have found this helpful, helping them feel more alert and focused.

The NHS also suggestions lifestyle measures, including talking therapy. We spoke to some sufferers of SAD and asked how they manage their symptoms and what tips they have for others:

Francesca says, “Go for a walk every day. That helps my mood so much. Even when it’s grey, that fresh air and real daylight is a game changer.”

Sangeet said she found “arts and outdoors helpful — now I combine them for a full benefit!”

And Janet said, “I found making exercise a priority, whether it’s a walk or a run outdoors, it can make such a difference. It’s one of the harder battles when you’re feeling low to really do anything, but once you’re over that hurdle, you really feel the benefit.”

If you feel you may need medical advice, be sure to contact your local GP for help.