After a season of long evenings and golden sunshine, it can be hard to transition into the darker months. Some of us may feel more inclined to wrap up in blankets and stay in our cosy homes than venture out into the cold. However, if you notice that the deterioration of the weather is having a significant impact on your mental health, you may be suffering from Season Affective Disorder. Symptoms of SAD include a persistent low mood, feelings of lethargy and despair on a regular basis and the urge to sleep longer. If you’ve noticed that these symptoms correlate with seasonal change and reoccur annually then this is a strong indication you have this disorder.
As a newer concept, SAD has not always been fully understood and recognised; however, this is a very real and diagnosable condition that affects many people. SAD is particularly prominent in millennials with 59 percent of 25-34 years old having experienced symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and a significant 7 in 10 of the same age group saying they wouldn’t rule out moving overseas. The cause of this disorder has not yet been confirmed, some theorise it is dependent on the lack of sunlight. Nevertheless, if seasonal change is something you struggle with, there are solutions to help you cope through the tougher months of the year.
Once you have recognised your symptoms, there is an array of treatments available such as light therapy, talking therapies and antidepressant medicine. You can read more about the different treatments available to you on the NHS website. There are also more natural alternatives to benefit your mental wellbeing. With less time spent outdoors during the winter months, your body will produce less vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity, Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency have been associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms. Therefore, lifestyle changes such as getting plenty of exercise and spending as much time in natural light as possible are very beneficial to your mental health. Often in our busy schedules, it is difficult to dedicate time to get some much-needed fresh air. As tiresome as this sounds, simply incorporating a walk into your lunch breaks will induce the release of endorphins in your body, which will help you to monitor and regulate stress levels and improve sleep quality. Alongside fresh air and exercise, try to look after your body by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. This will not only improve your immunity against those winter viruses but also benefit your mental wellbeing by making your body feel properly nourished and stronger.
Practising mindfulness is another beneficial treatment that you can try from the comfort of your own home. Meditation helps to increase serotonin levels, a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep. Take a moment out of your day, find a quiet corner to sit and be present and follow guided meditations using apps such as Headspace.
Holistic methods to combat SAD are also considered beneficial. Reiki is a holistic approach that helps to combat depression by transferring negative energy. "Find the inner stillness we all crave in the hectic world we live in,” advises Reiki Master, Kristy Lomas. “Our brains need a thorough rest, so we really need to switch off even if it’s for 10-15 minutes a day. Reiki helps in bringing you back to balance while improving energy levels and sleep intake.”
Even if you don’t have much time to practise mindfulness, you can introduce simple and effective activities into your day to aid your mental wellbeing. When you’re feeling stuck in a rut, it may help to concentrate and control the pattern of your breathing. This will help you to monitor stress levels and stay grounded by reminding you of something you can control. Introducing yoga into your routine is another way to help focus your mind and lift your spirits. By just being aware, present and grateful for even the small tasks your body is able to accomplish will bring you a step closer to managing and combatting your SAD symptoms. As well as this, make sure you dedicate time for self-care and to reward yourself. You can do this by giving your skin some TLC with a pampering face mask or taking a few minutes out of your day for some time alone with your thoughts. Even small positive additions will help elevate your mood and put the enjoyment back into your day.
If you are struggling to cope with SAD, it is worth seeing a GP to carry out an assessment on your mental health and give you professional advice. Socialising may be the last thing on your mind; however, communication has proven to have a positive impact on mental health. It may help you to talk to friends and family or professionals about your experience with SAD. This will help them understand your change in moods during seasonal progression and allow them to support you.
Don’t settle with the winter blues! If seasonal change and weather deterioration has got you feeling deflated, there is a range of treatment options to suit you and help you cope with SAD. Remember to be kind to yourself and that there is always support if you need it, so you no longer have to dread the darker months.