How to recognise and manage seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition that occurs as the seasons change from summer to autumn and winter, with shorter days and less exposure to natural daylight. It’s common for our moods to be affected during this time, and we’re more likely to feel emotional, depressed and anxious.
When there is less daylight, our circadian rhythm – the body’s ‘internal clock’ that regulates our sleep-wake cycle – is naturally disrupted.
This can be a contributing factor to the common mood disorder, alongside lifestyle changes as the weather changes – spending more solitary time indoors, for example. Although the exact statistics are hard to measure, research has suggested that people might first experience symptoms in their 20s and 30s, and that women are about four times more likely than men to experience SAD.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage and alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
What are the common symptoms of SAD?
Not sure if you have seasonal affective disorder? If the changing of the seasons makes you feel sad, tearful and lonely, it could be due to SAD. You may also feel less energetic, more irritable and anxious, have difficulty concentrating or enjoying normal everyday activities, and have a stronger desire for comfort foods. While this may be a coincidence for some, if you’re unsure, talk to your doctor to determine whether what you’re dealing with requires additional professional care.
Tips to manage and minimise the symptoms of SAD
Resist quick-fix comfort foods and strive for a balanced diet
We tend to crave more comfort foods – high-sugar snacks, microwave meals, simple carbohydrates – as the weather becomes darker and colder. They might temporarily give us a boost, but can actually aggravate the symptoms of SAD in the long run. So, if you’re currently consuming extra portions of cakes, chocolates and white bread and pasta, try to cut back and maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Home-cooked meals rich in fibre and nutrients (it’s officially soup season, everyone!) can provide relief and comfort to those struggling with SAD.
When working with my clients, I tell them to always be prepared. Carrying herbal tea bags for a quick ‘hug in a mug’ and stocking up on healthy snacks while on the go will help you steer clear of confectionery. Getting into the kitchen and making snacks and meals from scratch is not only good for our health, but can boost feelings of accomplishment and wellbeing, so it’s a double win. And you might have a new joy-inspiring hobby on your hands…
Caffeine and alcohol should also be limited, as they can have a negative impact on your mood. If possible, limit yourself to no more than two cups of coffee per day.
Meet your nutritional needs with added vitamins and supplements
Nutritional deficiencies have been linked in studies to low mood. Hence why it’s essential to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium and zinc – especially at this time of year, when our diets can slip.
With less daylight, particularly during the winter months, vitamin D is an essential vitamin we should all consider taking – and studies suggests it might help stave off feelings of fatigue and depression. If you’re feeling stressed, magnesium could be a great supplement to take – research suggests it might help decrease symptoms of anxiety. Also consider oils like lavender and chamomile, which can help relax the mind and body and are ideal for use before bed.
Top tip: For your vitamin D top-up, try our high-strength Vitamin D3 Softgels.
Keep your internal clock happy with altered lighting
Because there is less sunlight during the day as the seasons change, our circadian rhythms may change. So, try to keep your internal body clock balanced during the day by waking up and going to bed at the same time every day – even if it feels painful at first. This will help you stay on track with your cycles so you can feel more energised throughout the day.
Be mindful of your exposure to screens and harsh lighting in the evenings, especially if you want to get the best sleep possible (blue light has been shown to disrupt the body’s release of melatonin, the sleep hormone). Surrounding yourself with sunset/yellow mood lights or a warming red from a Himalayan salt lamp can be a great way to get your body ready for bed. Remember that a good night’s sleep is essential.
Find a routine that works… and stick to it!
Finally, the most important thing you can do to help you manage SAD is keep a consistent routine. Regardless of the season, try your best to eat healthily, do light-to-moderate exercise and go to bed at the same time every day. Taking the time to create and follow a routine will make this whole process feel like a self-care practice, which you can always rely on.
It’s important to note that if your symptoms aren’t improving, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor to see if you need specialised care for your health.
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