What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Written by Sa’diyah Malik.

The leaves are falling, and the days are getting shorter, which can only mean one thing: autumn is here! As temperatures begin to drop, it’s time to start planning for what can sometimes come along with that: seasonal affective disorder.

According to some people, winter is supposed to be the best time of year. We have so much to look forward to, Halloween, Bonfire Night, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years.

However, many people cannot muster the energy for these big events, or even much smaller ones. Even something as mundane as showering and getting dressed feels arduous. Everything that I once leaped out of bed to enjoy during summer, now becomes dreadful, avoided completely in favour of just staying at home. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, feels just like it sounds.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Season Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, often felt most during winter.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include:

  • Low mood
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in everyday activities
  • Irritability
  • A lack of energy, sleeping longer

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It’s believed that Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by a lack of sunlight and vitamin D during winter. This can lead to higher melatonin, a hormone that can make you feel tired. In people with SAD, this can lead to them being more tired more often during winter.

SAD can also lower our levels of serotonin, a hormone that affects our mood, appetite, and sleep. A lack of sunlight can lead to lower serotonin levels, which can cause depression.

How common is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

I’ve spoken to people about the effects of SAD, and many seem to not be aware it exists. But when I begin to ask them, “have you suddenly lost the motivation to do things you once loved doing during Summer?” people often reply “yes”. 

Sadly, whilst living in the UK, we are all too used to the days finishing early, the cold nights, and zero sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects around 2 million people in the UK. That is almost 3% of the population, so if you feel like you’re the only one who feels worse during winter, you’re definitely not!

My experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder

I’ve dealt with SAD too. Spending all my time in my room, no appetite, cancelling plans, glum moods. But the first step is recognising it, and acknowledging that change needs to happen.

I had many discussions with friends, and strangely enough myself, that this feeling would go away by itself. That it was only a temporary thing, that I would get back into my usual lifestyle when the time is right. I’ve been saying that for two months now.

It’s important to find refuge in something, or someone, that can help you overcome this time if you know you find it difficult. Some people like the endorphin rush they get from physical activities, or the intellectual satisfaction from reading a good book. What do you do that makes you feel good?

How to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do something you enjoy

Do something that excites you. It can be anything that activates the feel-good chemicals in your brain. Whether it’s baking, listening to your favourite song, trying new food, or knitting a nice cosy jumper for those cold nights. See what cheers you up and gets you through the day, and what isn’t working. Even the trial-and-error part of the process can keep you focused and feeling better.

Say yes to things

Sometimes the best thing you can do to shake yourself out of feeling bad is to say yes to any plan that is suggested to you. This forces you to get up, get out, and get active, which is sometimes all you need to start feeling better.

The more we get out and do things, the less time we spend sitting inside our own thoughts. Even if it’s something you never thought you’d enjoy, say yes. You might surprise yourself.

Of course, the caveat to this is: don’t do anything you know you really don’t want to do, or don’t have the energy for.

Take time for yourself

It’s so easy to overexert yourself, trying to do everything, or spending all your energy trying to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling down. It’s important to take moments out of your day for some peace, not trying to do anything, or change anything.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes just sitting with how you’re feeling can help, even if that feeling is horrible and you want to make it go away.

Whether that is taking a few moments to meditate, sit quietly with a hot cup of tea, or watch your comfort show. Do whatever it takes to turn off the world for a few minutes, it will be there when you get back.

Be kind to your yourself, and know that these feelings won’t last forever.

Read more ways to improve your mental health, or learn how to manage loneliness over the holidays.

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Posted on: 22nd November 2022

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