Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Symptoms & Advice | 붯

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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (often referred to as 'SAD') is a type of depression that occurs during particular seasons. It's more common in winter – many of us feel lower in mood and energy as we adjust to the change in seasons.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

Typical symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • low mood
  • lacking energy
  • losing interest in things or not enjoying things you usually do
  • having difficulty with concentration and memory
  • feeling less able to talk to people, or needing to be quiet
  • preferring to be alone more than usual
  • crying more than usual, or over things that wouldn't normally make you upset
  • feeling pessimistic, hopeless or guilty
  • having difficulty getting restful sleep – whether this means waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep or insomnia
  • not wanting to get out of bed
  • changes in appetite.

The severity of symptoms vary from one person to another. For some people, their symptoms will be fairly mild, whilst others may find that theirs have a big impact on their daily life.

Speak to your doctor or another healthcare professional

If you’re feeling low or out of sorts, don’t keep it to yourself. There’s no need to feel embarrassed – you're not alone.

What causes SAD?

It's not known exactly what causes SAD, but it's thought to be linked to fewer hours of daylight and less exposure to sunlight in the winter months.

It’s not unusual for older people to notice symptoms for the first time if they start to spend more time indoors due to health or mobility problems.

How is SAD treated?

If you're stuggling to cope with symptoms of SAD, you should book an appointment with a healthcare professional. They may ask you questions about your mood, lifestyle, eating and sleeping habits, and the seasonal pattern of your symptoms.

A diagnosis of SAD can usually be confirmed if: 

  • your depression occurs at a similar time each year for at least 2 years
  • the periods of depression are followed by periods without depression.

Treatment available includes talking therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – in CBT sessions, you talk to a trained therapist to help change the way you think and feel about situations. You could also try light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a special lamp that mimics sunlight. Your doctor and certain other healthcare professionals can also prescribe antidepressants, which help lift your mood.

Speak to your doctor or healthcare professional about the risks and benefits of different treatments.

What can I do to help myself?

Many of us find winter months more difficult – and the shorter days and darker mornings can really affect your mood. But there are lots of simple things you can do to help boost your mood.

Get natural sunlight when you can

Getting outside in the natural sunlight can help boost your mood – even a short daily walk can help. If you're finding it difficult to get outside, try and make your home as bright as possible by opening the curtains and sitting near the window.

Stay active 

Regular activity, especially outdoors on a bright day, can help with symptoms of low mood and depression. This doesn't have to mean working up a sweat – short walks outside are enough to help boost your mood.

Connect with others 

Winter can make us feel more isolated, but there are lots of ways to keep in touch with people. Try to find ways to reach out to friends and family – by giving them a phone or video call, sending them an email, or even writing them a letter.

Find out more about how to make video calls

You could also sign up to 붯's Telephone Friendship Service. The service matches anyone over 60 with a likeminded volunteer for weekly telephone calls. It's a great way to make a new friend and enjoy regular conversation.

Find out more about 붯's Telephone Friendship Service

Try out a new hobby

If you tend to stay indoors more during the winter months, keeping busy with hobbies can help keep your mind active. Books can be a wonderul way of transporting yourself elsewhere and lifting your spirits. There are even services that deliver books and audiobooks to your door. 

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We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local 붯s.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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