Tips & Advice

Living with a Mental Illness: Seasonal Affective Disorder

F**k me, it’s cold.

Yes, that’s how I start my professional mental health blogs. But honestly, isn’t that what you are saying most mornings and nights at the moment? Winter is definitely here and with it comes the change in our moods and mental health. Waking up is hard, our lockdown weight goes up even further and we feel knackered.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as ‘winter depression’ for being more commonly known to affect mental health in the darker months, can affect up to 3 out of 100 people in the UK. Symptoms can include persistent low mood, irritable, feeling despair or guilty, feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day and gaining weight. SAD can affect us most winters, let alone a winter during a pandemic and being stuck inside. You can read more about SAD and the symptoms here on the NHS website.

So what can we do to help? SAD will not go away and may be something we face each year, but we can implement some changes to help.

  • Contact your GP – it is possible to be diagnosed with SAD, it can take time but contacting your doctor is a good first step to receiving help and support with your symptoms. Your doctor can recommend therapies and medications suited to help.
  • Light therapy – yes, I had never heard of it either but apparently it’s a thing. Light therapy is a way to treat SAD and help us out of the darkness. It involves lots of different light technologies to recreates sunny moments and mimic outdoor natural light. It’s thought to help by affecting our brain chemicals- tricking us into thinking it’s summer again and help reduce symptoms. You can buy your own light boxes online via amazon to trial this out at home. It can have risks like most treatments so please ensure you do your research.
  • Lifestyle changes – this is another area your GP can help with and suggest certain changes we can make in our everyday lives to help reduce symptoms and lift our moods. Getting as much natural sunlight as possible is recommended, exercising regularly and managing stress levels. There are over-the-counter recommended vitamin D tablets and sprays to help our bodys cope without as much sunlight. Another suggestion could be making your home and work environments as light as possible, putting furniture near windows and going for a walk during lunch breaks.

You can read more about potential treatments and advice here.

SAD can be caused by our bodies attempting to readjust to our new environments. I believe there’s a reason animals hibernate at this time of year, and I don’t blame any humans wanting to join. It’s important to understand SAD doesn’t just go away and can be something we need to work with each year. SAD also can be triggered during the summer months and doesn’t always relate to the dark and cold months.

Please be kind to yourselves during these winter months. Living with SAD can be hard and is more common then most people think. Our bodies and minds go through so much and are currently being pushed to the limit. Allow yourself the fact that you are going to be feeling pretty grim right now.

We are sending our love and support.

Emma x

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