Winter is coming, so what’s the deal with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Christine Kapak
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At the end of October, the clocks went back. It marked the transition from autumn to early winter where the days were suddenly shorter and darker. For most of us, the change was insignificant - we simply got an extra hour in bed.
However for others, this change brought on the ‘winter blues’ or medically ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (commonly known as SAD).

It is estimated that 20% of the UK population experience mild symptoms of discomfort, however a further 8% is debilitated by SAD without appropriate treatment*.

What causes SAD?

SAD is a type of depression that becomes worse with certain seasons, commonly between September and April time. It’s believed to be caused by the lack of light during the winter which affects the levels of hormones (serotonin and melatonin) in the part of the brain which controls sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity.  

What are the symptoms to look out for?

You yearn to ‘hibernate’ due to a lack of energy, you experience concentration problems, sleep problems, depression or apathy, anxiety, panic attacks, mood changes, overeating (especially carbohydrates), weight gain, compromised immune system, loss of interest in relationships and socialising.

Help yourself by...

Let’s be frank. It’s difficult to make a change when you experience a seasonal depression, but there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself feel better. Adopting healthy habits in your lifestyle can help lift the cloud and ease the symptoms of SAD.

  • Take a short walk during the day and make the most of the natural light.
  • Exercise to boost your levels of ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals, like serotonin and endorphins.
  • Eat a balanced diet filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to help keep your energy up and keep a balanced mood.
  • Engage in some relaxation techniques, like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, to help you manage stress.

And if you need treatment & support…

  • Talking Treatments like counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is often offered to help with SAD - it aims to identify the connection between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, giving you practical skills to manage them.
  • St. John’s Wort can be useful in coping with mild cases of SAD, but you should see your GP before using it if you are taking any other medication, as it can interfere with their effectiveness.
  • Light Therapy is a structured course of light therapy supervised by a medical professional.
  • Antidepressants may be recommended by your GP for severe cases of SAD and they may work best when combined with talking treatments or light therapy.

For more information about SAD, please visit


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