The shorter, darker days and gloomy weather of winter can have a profound impact on people’s mental health – but there are things that can help alleviate this.

While many people will say they are affected by the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is when this seasonal feeling really starts to impact on your life and you feel depressed.

The term SAD may be relevant rather than ‘winter blues’ when seasonal depression has happened for the previous two years, says our member Rakhi Chand.

People typically feel – albeit to differing degrees - low, depressed, demotivated, low on energy, withdrawn and isolated.

It’s something Rakhi says comes up fairly often in the therapy room.

“People seem to be pretty aware of the seasonal differences in how they feel,” adds Rakhi, a therapist based in Leytonstone, London.

“Talking about SAD in counselling has, in my experience, always linked to other difficulties in a person’s life. Exploring some of these issues in counselling tends to address the roots of an individual’s vulnerability and suffering. It can take the edge off the SAD.”

She adds: “If you feel full on depressed rather than ‘low’ in mood then it’s important to see your GP too. They can discuss options with you.”

Coping strategies

As well as speaking to a counsellor, there are a range of coping strategies you can use to help with SAD.

Here are Rakhi’s top coping strategies if you are affected by SAD.

  1. Exposure to natural light – while a winter holiday in a sunnier destination might not always be possible, a lightbox can be a helpful alternative.
  2. Eating well - physical and mental health are closely linked, so this is why numbers 3 and 4 are also important!
  3. Sleeping well - and enough - and at night.
  4. Exercising.
  5. Being aware of what you enjoy, and doing those things – small or big, and assuming they aren’t self-destructive e.g. binge drinking.
  6. Being aware of and not doing (too much) of what you don’t enjoy.
  7. Being able to say ‘no’ when needed. This is more complex and may well require counselling help. Not being able to say no - to friends, family, colleagues for example - means that we are probably prioritising something or someone else's needs over our own. If we do this too much, we become alienated from ourselves. This can be a recipe for depression and anxiety, and susceptibility to SAD, I would argue.
  8. Taking time out to breathe and meditate is good for our mental health. For example, using apps like Headspace and Calm. This is likely to improve resilience against SAD.

If you'd like to speak to a counsellor or psychotherapist about SAD visit our Therapist directory.