Over half of British adults say their mood is worse during the winter months, yet few of us know how we can make proactive changes to counter these feelings. We share 10 simple ways you can tackle SAD right now

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is thought to affect nearly a third of us Brits. As the seasons change, if you find your mood, energy levels, sleeping patterns or eating habits changing significantly, it could be a sign you are experiencing seasonal depression.

Often referred to as ‘winter blues’, SAD most commonly affects those aged 18-30, though it can occur during seasonal changes throughout the year.

Symptoms include:

  • experiencing a persistently low mood
  • feeling stressed or anxious
  • losing interest or enjoyment in everyday activities, hobbies or pastimes
  • low self-esteem
  • loss of libido or decreased sex drive
  • becoming less sociable, feeling tearful or sad
  • eating more or less than normal
  • feeling lethargic or sleepy during the day, or having trouble getting up
  • difficulty concentrating

While the exact causes of SAD aren’t fully understood, it’s thought to be linked with our reduced exposure to natural sunlight during autumn and winter days. Causing our circadian rhythm to become off-balance, this can mean your body may not produce the hormones needed to help you wake up and feel active. Higher production of melatonin (the hormone that signals it’s time to sleep) may also be responsible, along with lower production of serotonin (the feel-good hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep).

If you think you may be experiencing SAD, there are plenty of things you can do to try and counter symptoms and boost your mood.

1. Speak with your GP

Booking an appointment with your GP should always be the first port of call. Your GP will be able to recommend different treatment options based on your symptoms, how severe they are, and what effect they are having on you.

A variety of different treatments and options are offered by the NHS. Along with assessing your mental health, your GP should ask questions about your lifestyle, eating and sleeping habits, mood, and any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviours. Based on their findings, they may recommend talking therapies (counselling or CBT), antidepressants, light therapy, or suggest lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and stress management.

2. Boost your mood by adjusting your food

Making small changes to your diet can have a surprising impact on your overall health and wellbeing – physically and mentally. As explained on Nutritionist Resource, increasing how much oily fish you eat can help to protect against depression, or for vegetarians, eggs, walnuts, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds can also provide good sources of omega-3.

Try increasing your intake of eggs, walnuts, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds to get more omega-3 in your diet

As nutritionist Severine Menem explains, “Vitamin D deficiency alone can explain low energy and depression. In the UK, people tend to be chronically low on vitamin D because of the lack of sunshine throughout the year.” During the darker winter months, it can be worth considering supplements to help combat any vitamin deficiencies you may be experiencing.

Reducing your caffeine, alcohol, and sugar intake can also have a significant impact on your overall sense of wellbeing. The more sugary foods we eat, the more our bodies work to reduce the effect of the sugar, the more our energy and mod can dip. As one nutritionist explains, “Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can mimic the stress response and contribute to low mood. Try and keep them to a minimum and see if you notice a difference.”

3. Lighten your mood

Investing in a light box, SAD alarm clock, or SAD light bulbs is one of the options recommended by counsellors, psychotherapists, and the NHS. As psychotherapist Lindsay George explains, “The idea behind light therapy is to create a simulation of sunlight by sitting in front of a special light box for 20-30 minutes per day. This is so that the melanopsin receptors in the eyes can trigger the required serotonin release within the brain for natural sleep cycles and general feelings of wellbeing.”

Current National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines say that it isn’t clear if light therapy is effective or not, however, some people with SAD say that it has a considerable impact on their mood. As long as you don’t have an eye condition that makes you sensitive to light, nor are taking herbal supplement St. John’s Wort, antibiotics or antipsychotics, then it could be worth trying light therapy.

4. Speak with a depression coach

Depression coaching may not be as well known as counselling for depression, however, speaking with a coach can be a valuable addition to talking therapies or medication. Unlike talking therapies, coaching focuses on what you can change here and now, getting you to focus on and create the outcomes you would like to see in your future.

Speaking with a coach or counsellor can offer an outside perspective on issues that may be troubling you

Just as with other forms of depression, a coach can help you work through underlying causes of SAD. A depression coach can help you to identify areas that could be improved, build healthier habits, and encourage a sustainable self-care routine. They can also help you to pinpoint things that might be missing, helping you to find ways to combine what you are passionate about with your career, how you can nurture existing relationships, start new hobbies, or find ways to de-stress.

Discover more about the differences between depression coaching and counselling.

5. Work with a counsellor to try CBT (and more)

Talking with a trained, accredited therapist can help you to identify unhelpful behaviour patterns, see your actions and thoughts in new ways, as well as to discover different methods of handling how you are feeling.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful for those experiencing depression. Focusing on the idea that how we think and behave affects the way we feel, a therapist can help someone who is experiencing depression (and may lean towards more negative, self-defeating thoughts and behaviours) to address negative pattern, learn how to identify and challenge them before they can take hold.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is another form of talking therapy recommended for those who experience depression. Combining mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and cognitive therapy, MBCT can help you to break negative thought patterns and learn more helpful ones.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is another kind of therapy suggested for depression. Looking at how mental health can affect our relationships, and how relationships can affect us, IPT can help to break the cycle of depression and deteriorating communication.

If you find expressing and understanding your emotions to be challenging, art therapy could be the option for you. Working with an art therapist in a one-to-one or group setting, they may use specific art activities to help you explore how you are feeling in the moment, past events, or even to just learn how to open up and express yourself. If the thought of speaking one-to-one feels daunting, art therapy can provide a more laid-back, pressure-free approach and environment.

6. Get out and get active

When you’re feeling low and lethargic, being told to get up and be more active can feel like the last thing you want to hear, but increasing your physical activity can hugely benefit your mental health. The more active you are, the better you start feeling about yourself and the world around you. Studies have shown exercise can help with mild symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as benefiting our sense of self-esteem (all whilst lowering stress levels).

Being active can help boost your mood and provide a sense of accomplishment 

If you’re 18 or older, the recommended amount of moderate activity each week is 150 minutes or more. That averages out at just over 20 minutes each day. If you struggle to fit exercise in with your daily routine, why not try adding in a brisk walk during your lunch break, or tweaking your commute by getting off a stop early from the bus or parking further away to get in some extra steps. Dr Luke Powles shares his top tips to help you boost your health and fitness – no matter how busy you may be, or check out these guidelines from the NHS.

If you have been diagnosed with depression, many GP surgeries offer exercise on prescription. They can help you figure out what type of activity will best suit you and depending on what is available in your area, may be able to offer exercise programmes at a reduced cost or free.

7. Switch up your schedule

As the clocks change and the days start feeling shorter, for many this can mean they are going to work before the sun is fully up, and coming home after sunset. If possible, consider how you can tweak your schedule to maximise your time spent outside during daylight hours. Exposure to natural light can help boost your mood and trigger important hormone production.

If you can’t alter your start or finish times, try and make the most of the time that you do have. Focus on how you can make your commute more mindful and a positive experience. Incorporating mindfulness can help you to de-stress, feel calmer and more in control. Simple breathing exercises, using affirmations or mantras can all be small ways to give yourself a regular boost.

If you struggle to fit time outside into your weekday routine, give forest bathing a go at the weekend – the physical and mental health benefits are numerous.

8. Consider working with a hypnotherapist

Hypnotherapy is one of the many treatment options that some people find can help them manage or overcome depression. Hypnotherapy for depression uses techniques to help identify and handle the root causes, whilst offering new positive suggestions to help break negative thought patterns. Instead of focusing on treating the symptoms, hypnotherapy aims to tackle the triggers that have lead to depression.

Hypnotherapy can encourage a relaxed state of mind by using positive suggestions, helping to stop negative thought patterns and reframe bad feelings that may be associated with a particular season or time of year.

Discover more about how hypnotherapy can help with depression.

9. Open up

According to research, almost half of us keep our worries and concerns to ourselves, despite an overwhelming 82% believing that meaningful conversations about our worries are beneficial to our mental health. While we know talking can have powerful benefits, opening up isn’t always easy.

Despite overwhelmingly believing talking can benefit our mental health, nearly half of us keep our worries to ourselves

If you don’t feel ready or able to open up and speak about how you are feeling with loved ones, speaking with a professional counsellor or coach could help. Offering an impartial view on the situation, an outsider can help you to work through any thoughts or feelings that may be causing you distress. There are also many charity lines out there available to talk, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call Samaritans free of charge on 116 123, visit your local branch or contact them via email.

10. Explore holistic, complementary therapies

There are a wide variety of holistic therapies that can help combat symptoms of seasonal depression. Aromatherapy can help promote rest, recovery and healing. If you haven’t explored aromatherapy before, essential oils can be a good starting point as they can help boost your mood whilst increasing your energy levels. An aromatherapist can also introduce you to aromatherapy massage, which can help reduce nervous tension, brighten your mood, reduce stress, and stimulate your immune system.

Discover more about how you can use aromatherapy to boost your wellbeing.

Managing severe SAD

Seasonal affective disorder varies in symptoms, nature and severity from person to person. While some people may experience symptoms such as low mood, they may be able to mitigate this negative impact through alternative or holistic options. Others may find it has a more severe, significant impact on their day-to-day life.

If you are concerend that SAD may be significantly impacting your health and wellbeing, it is important to seek help and advice from a medical professional. With professional help and support, diagnosing and treating SAD is possible.