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Explained: Seasonal Affective Disorder and how to manage it

At Health Assured, we generally see a 30% increase in calls to our mental health helpline over the winter months. For people who experience SAD, the clocks going back, bringing darker mornings and shorter days, can often begin to trigger their symptoms. Life becomes difficult, mood plummets and negative emotions take over. This year, these worries are likely to be even more elevated due to the rising cost of living and financial worries.

As we move towards the end of the year, the weather gets colder, and the days get shorter. The changing of the seasons can significantly impact a person’s health and wellbeing.

Kayleigh Frost is Head of Clinical Services at Health Assured, the UK and Ireland’s leading Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider.

She says: “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the change of the seasons. Those who experience SAD suffer from depressive symptoms during the darker winter months.

“At Health Assured, we generally see a 30% increase in calls to our mental health helpline over the winter months. For people who experience SAD, the clocks going back, bringing darker mornings and shorter days, can often begin to trigger their symptoms. Life becomes difficult, mood plummets and negative emotions take over. This year, these worries are likely to be even more elevated due to the rising cost of living and financial worries.

“Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder bear a close similarity to those associated with depression. Here are some of the common signs to look out for:

  • Lack of energy
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Sleeping problems (oversleeping & struggle sleeping)
  • More susceptible to physical health problems like infections, colds, and illnesses
  • Feeling persistently sad or tearful
  • Suicidal feelings

“It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person, and while the above is not an exhaustive list, it highlights some of the more common symptoms. Remember that you are not alone in your struggles; many other people also struggle.

“Here are my top five tips to help people cope with and manage the symptoms of SAD.”

Get more outdoor time
The work day can be dark and dreary, especially now that most of us are commuting before the sun has come up and after it has set. Try to get as much daylight into the workday as possible. Short outdoor meetings (weather permitting), coffee runs and getting outside for a walk on your lunchbreak should be a priority.

Maximise the light
The winter months can be difficult. You wake up when it’s dark, and by the time you get home from work it’s dark again. This perpetual state of darkness can be unsettling. It can make you feel like there isn’t enough time to complete your daily tasks – leading to a lack of motivation. Try rearranging your office space to maximise the natural light. If you can’t do this, you may benefit from using a SAD lamp or lightbox – a form of light therapy that simulates natural light.

Counselling
Counselling can help process any difficult emotions you – or someone you know – might be experiencing. The counsellor can provide a listening ear, working with you to help find coping strategies to get you through tough times.

Self-care
Self-care can help release tension in the body, giving you space to process and make peace with your thoughts. These small moments of reflection are a valuable time to relax, unwind and find space from overwhelming feelings. Taking time out for self-care could include reading a book, going to the gym, having a bubble bath, or practising mindfulness.

 Talk to your GP
It can sometimes feel daunting to take this step and many people worry about ‘bothering’ their GP when it comes to SAD. But your GP can provide guidance and support, offering more information to help you understand the feelings you’re experiencing. They’ll also be able to guide you to other options that can help.

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