Helpful Tips For Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder
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Struggling with your mental health in the autumn and winter months is very common.
Due to the colder weather, shorter days and the lack of sunlight, many people suffer from a case of the winter blues.
You may have started to feel a bit of a shift in your energy, perhaps you’re struggling to get out of bed now were getting into the colder and darker mornings.
Whilst these feelings are common during the changing seasons, what people don’t realise is that they could be suffering from a form of seasonal depression.
This is known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD for short, and it’s estimated that 1 in 3 people within the UK suffer from it every year.
Find out about the symptoms of seasonal depression and helpful tips for dealing with it within our guide.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that people experience during particular seasons throughout the year.
Due to the lack of hours of sunlight hours this can impact our mood and our body’s internal clock.
Which in turn can affect our brain producing mood-regulating hormones like serotonin and melatonin.
Whilst SAD is commonly experienced within the autumn and winter months in the UK, you can also suffer from it during the spring or summer.
Some people with SAD will feel down and suffer from a low mood during autumn and winter and will feel better when it comes to the spring and summer months.
Contrastingly for others, they can feel at ease during autumn and winter and feel depressed during the warmer seasons.
Normally, those suffering from seasonal depression will experience the feelings at a similar start and end point every year.
Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Those who suffer with seasonal affective disorder often have positive mental health throughout most of the year and begin to exhibit depressive feelings during the winter.
As we mentioned earlier, a lot of people do suffer with poor mental health during the autumn and winter in the UK, but seasonal affective disorder is a genuine medical condition.
If you believe you could be suffering from seasonal depression, take a look at the common symptoms below:
- A persistent low mood
- Losing interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- Tiredness or low energy
- Sleeping more and finding it difficult to get up
- Difficulty concentrating
- Appetite changes, craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Decreased sex drive
To find out more about seasonal affective disorder head to the NHS website.
Helpful Tips For Dealing With SAD
If you think you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, there are some helpful tips you can make use of to help you feel better during the autumn and winter months.
We’ve listed our top 10 ways to deal with the symptoms of seasonal depression below.
1. Stick To A Regular Sleep Schedule
Those who suffer with seasonal depression often have trouble sleeping.
With the lack of day light hours in the UK during the autumn and winter months, it can be much more difficult to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and start the day.
Research suggests those with SAD sleep for two hours more a night in the winter than they do in the summer.
If you’re experiencing this, try and stick to a regular sleep schedule where you’re going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time, give or take.
A good amount of sleep for a young person is between 7-9 hours, so try to stick with this the best you can and you’ll notice you feel less sleepy during the day.
2. Vitamin D Supplements
During the autumn and winter within the UK, it’s important to get vitamin D within your diet as the lack of natural light from the sun means our body doesn’t produce enough of it.
This is not only important for those suffering from seasonal depression, but for everyone.
Studies have found that a lack of vitamin D can be a contributing factor of seasonal affective disorder.
A great way to boost our Vitamin D intake is through taking supplements, which can help with energy levels and fatigue.
3. Brighten Up Your Room
Lights are commonly used to help ease the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, particularly improving low moods and the ability to wake up in the morning.
Due to the lack of sunlight during the early morning hours, it can feel super difficult to wake up if you suffer from SAD, which is why many people use light boxes during the colder months.
There are many different light boxes you can get online which produce lights that gradually get brighter and brighter, similar to the sunlight.
Using a SAD lamp regularly and consistently can give your body the bright light it needs during the dark winter months.
Although, these lamps can be expensive so if you’re unable to get one, try to make the most of the natural sunlight.
Open your curtains early in the morning, such as when the sun is rising and get out and about whilst it’s light outside to manage symptoms of SAD.
4. Spend Time With Family & Friends
When experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression, social activities can seem daunting and the last thing you want to do.
The weather is doom and gloom, you’re knackered and you’re feeling low, but the one thing that you shouldn’t do is isolate yourself.
A date with your bed might seem like the top thing on your mind but getting out of your student accommodation and socialising can do you the world of good.
Make some plans with your friends and family during the day if you can, to make the most of the bright weather, even if it’s cloudy it will give your body and mind what it needs.
If you’re not able to spend time with your family and friends, stay connected with them online as this can still boost your mood and give you the social time you need.
Don’t be afraid of reaching out to your support network if you’re struggling, chances are, they may be experiencing similar feelings during the winter months.
5. Follow A Daily Schedule
Getting through the day can be hard when you’re faced with seasonal depression, even getting up and doing basic things can feel difficult.
However, there are things you can do to improve your mood and day to day functioning.
One way is to follow the same schedule every day or try to stick to it as much as possible to get yourself into a routine which works for you.
Whilst studying at university, you already have a schedule to follow for attending lectures and seminars, so you have a consistent routine to follow a few days a week.
When it comes to the weekend, try and get yourself into a similar routine of staying busy and fitting in activities you like doing, rather than spending too much time indoors.
Stress can make feelings associated with seasonal depression heighten, so we’d suggest trying to minimise any potential triggers than can make you feel overwhelmed.
A good way to combat stress is to plan ahead, such as if you’ve got lots of deadlines coming up, make sure to set a plan of action for completing your work.
6. Exercise Daily
Exercise is a common method for dealing with depression, and the same goes for seasonal affective disorder.
Keep yourself moving and get out for a short while every day, even if it’s just for half an hour.
We’d suggest going for an early morning walk whilst it’s light outside or get yourself out on your lunch break in-between lectures.
Fitting in some exercise to your daily routine can help combat the negative feelings associated with seasonal depression,
Such as fatigue, low mood and weight gain.
It’s still possible to exercise at home through home work outs.
However, we’d recommend heading outdoors if you suffer with SAD to get as much natural sunlight and fresh air as you can to improve your symptoms.
7. Maintain A Well-balanced Diet
You already know how important it is to main a healthy and well-balanced diet, but it’s even more vital for those who suffer from seasonal depression.
Making sure you eat healthy meals packed with vegetables and nutrients, will give your mind and body the energy it needs which in turn will leave you feeling less tired and drained.
Not to mention, it can also improve your concentration levels and academic performance.
It can be tempting to grab our fave comfort foods, or order a takeaway if we’re feeling low, but try not to each too much junk food.
A treat here and there is fine, it’s what you deserve, but eating good = feeling good.
So, make sure your eating things that support your overall wellbeing this wintertime.
8. Do Activities You Enjoy
Another technique to take on board to make yourself feel better is to do things you enjoy.
Whilst the weather might make things harder for some hobbies and interests like sports, there are still ways you can keep busy and practice your favourite activities even in the darker seasons.
It’s not uncommon to lose interest in things you normally enjoy with SAD, but fighting these feelings are a step in feeling better.
Push yourself to do things, explore what activities, societies and groups are available at your uni or within your local area and keep yourself occupied.
If you suffer with seasonal depression, there are other activities you can do to make yourself feel better like watching your favourite film or TV show, playing your favourite games, having a self-care session or even visiting family or friends.
9. Keep A Journal
People with seasonal depression suffer from feelings of depression, anxiety and stress.
A good way to combat negative feelings is to jot down the emotions you’re experiencing, this way you’re letting those thoughts out which can stop you from feeling overwhelmed.
Not only will it help de-clutter your thoughts, journaling also helps you understand your feelings and get to grips with the reasons why you’re experiencing them.
If you don’t have a journal, even writing down how you’re feeling on the notes app on your phone is a good way to improve some of the symptoms of winter depression.
Another useful method of getting your thoughts and feelings out to understand them more clearly, is to draw.
10. Speak To Your GP
Finally, if you are struggling with seasonal affective disorder, we recommend speaking to a mental health professional.
As we stated earlier, SAD is a medical condition that can be diagnosed and there are many methods of treatment available if self-help tips aren’t working.
If you’re diagnosed with SAD, some of the treatments include light therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling and antidepressant medications.
Your GP will recommend the most suitable treatment programme for you and your lifestyle, you don’t need to suffer in silence.
If you don’t want to speak to your doctor about the way you’re feeling, speak to your university mental health team and your support network.
Remember, you’re not alone, around 2 million people within the UK suffer from depression due to seasonal changes.
If your worried about your mental health or want to learn more about seasonal affective disorder, there are some helpful resources below:
- Mind – Empowering resources from leading mental health charity in the UK.
- Mental Health Foundation – UK Charity which helps people understand and gain support for their mental health.
Read next: Tips For University Students With ADHD.