SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder. It’s a type of depression that you experience at different times of the year and can leave you feeling persistently sad or low for weeks or months at a time.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not known, but it’s been linked to a lack of exposure to sunlight. 

“SAD symptoms are more common in the winter months when there is a decreased level of sunlight, which can disrupt our body’s melatonin and serotonin levels,” says our member Glenda Roberts, who is based in Sudbury in Suffolk.

Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy while serotonin affects your mood, appetite and sleep.

“It’s also called winter depression,” adds Lina Mookerjee from Nottingham. “But it can also be experienced during the summer and it's winter that brings relief.”

What are the symptoms of SAD?

If you experience low energy, irritability and fatigue during particular months of the year, it might be due to SAD. Feeling depressed, tearful and sad most of the day, every day can also be signs of SAD.

SAD can affect people in different ways. You may suffer from insomnia or you may oversleep. Some people crave carbohydrates, overeat and put on weight. Or you may feel like hibernating, withdraw socially and lose interest in your favourite activities. At worst, you may experience feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness.

How to cope with SAD

“Try to get outdoors every day,” says Lina. “A 15-minute brisk walk in daylight can make a huge difference to your wellbeing.

“It’s really important to be outside in the sun when possible to stimulate your metabolism and increase and maintain healthy vitamin D levels, as well as to manage the potential to become lethargic.”

Lina also recommends managing your diet. Include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and watch out for overeating on comfort and processed foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

“Make soups, stews and casseroles that soothe and comfort from within in nourishing ways,” she says. “Cook with warming spices including fresh ginger, garlic, pepper and chillies.

“And drink lots of warm water with a dash of fresh lemon to keep your system clear and to avoid stagnant energy and congestion build up.”

Glenda suggests following a routine. “Include time for yourself, exercise on a daily basis such as walking or running, and maintain a healthy eating plan,” she says. “Schedule in social time for friends - even if it's just a phone call.

“Make your own self-care tool kit. Include photos which take you to happy memories, quotes of encouragement, a notepad and pen to write down your thoughts and your favourite film, book or music.”

Some people also find light therapy, which uses a special lamp to simulate exposure to sunlight, can help improve your mood.

How can counselling help with SAD?

Lina says: “Winter time, with lower levels of daylight, can be a stimulant that triggers grief and loss.

“Counselling can offer you a safe space to begin to talk about what’s going on for you, so using what SAD has triggered as opposed to just simply fixing it as a problem.

“Working with SAD might be a catalyst for a constructive change through processing what’s happening within.”

Glenda adds: “Talking therapies such as counselling help you to explore and discuss your emotions in a safe secure environment. Counselling can also provide you with useful tools and coping strategies.”

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