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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Explains seasonal affective disorder, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

How can I help myself?

Living with SAD can be difficult, but there are lots of things you can do to help yourself cope. This page has some suggestions for you to consider.

Some people find these ideas useful, but remember that different things work for different people at different times. Only try what you feel comfortable with, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If something isn't working for you (or doesn't feel possible just now), you can try something else, or come back to it another time.

If SAD affects you during winter, there are particular things you could try that might help. You could:

  • Make the most of natural light. It might help to spend time in natural light, for example going for walks, spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window. This seems to be helpful if you experience SAD in winter.
  • Plan ahead for winter. For example, try to make meals in advance and freeze them if you know you are likely to lack the energy to do this during the most difficult period.

"I try to get some natural light during the day just by being outside, maybe tidying up the garden or taking my dog for a walk. Exercise in natural light is really helpful but is not always possible."

If SAD affects you during hot weather, there are particular things you could try that might help. You could:

  • Drink plenty of water so that you stay hydrated. See our page on food and mood for more information.
  • Look for ways to get shade, such as wearing wide-brimmed hats or sunglasses.
  • Visit indoor places. Staying inside all the time could make you feel isolated. It could help to try doing activities indoors, like visiting your local library or going to the cinema.
  • Plan ahead for summer. For example, try to avoid going outside at the hottest times of day where possible.

"I feel calmer and more relaxed when I have had a bath or a shower – no matter how quickly I am in there for. The same can be said for doing the washing up – it is a massive chore but I feel good when I can see the end result and also I find it takes my mind off the negative."

It can be hard to reach out when you're not feeling well, but it might help to share how you're feeling. If you don't feel you can talk to the people around you or you need additional support, you could contact a helpline such as:

"SAD is like a cold blanket that keeps depression and anxiety wrapped close to me. When I feel I can, I go outside and face the sun, close my eyes and focus on the light and warmth."

You might find it helps to keep a note of your symptoms, including when they start and if particular things seem to trigger them, including changes in the weather. This could help you notice any patterns.

You could also make a note of things that feel helpful for you or which seem to make things worse. This can be helpful because SAD affects you at some times and not others, so you might not easily remember these details.

"I keep a daily diary and it's helpful to look back over the years and see how each year I've felt the downward spiral starting."

If you've noticed your symptoms follow a pattern, you may be able to work out when they're most likely to start in the future. This may help you put things in place for those times.

For example you could:

  • try to re-arrange stressful activities or events for another time
  • plan relaxing activities that might help improve your mood
  • plan ahead, such as stocking up on things you need or preparing early for special occasions such as Christmas
  • try to make more spare time to rest or do things you enjoy
  • create a self-care box.

Creating a self-care box

Some people find it helpful to fill a box with things that comfort them or help them to relax. You could try including your favourite book or film, a notebook and pen to write down your thoughts or notes of encouragement to yourself. This can be a useful tool as it can be very difficult to come up with ideas to help you when you're feeling low.

"December is dark but the festive lights and cheerfulness are an antidote and I now put up my Christmas decorations really early (1st Dec) as a way of coping with my SAD symptoms and stretching out the 'fairy-light antidote' for a whole month. However, when all the festive cheer has gone, I find January and February really tough."

Peer support brings together people who have had similar experiences. Some people find this very helpful.

To find peer support, you could:

If you're seeking peer support on the internet, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. For more information see our pages on online mental health and peer support.

"I have a dawn simulator alarm clock which lights up gradually to fill my space in the bedroom with a glow."

  • Manage stress. It can help to think of ways to manage pressure and build your emotional resilience. See our pages on how to manage stress for more information.
  • Try some relaxation techniques. Learning to relax can help you look after your wellbeing when you are feeling stressed, anxious or busy. See our pages on relaxation for tips you could try, or see our information on mindfulness.
  • Spend time in nature. Being outside in green space can help you feel more in touch with your surroundings. See our pages on nature and mental health for more information.

"I get up early, wrap up warm, put on my pedometer and walk in the dark and enjoy the solitude ... By the time people are up and about, I'm back home having walked a good few miles and feel so much better for it."

Looking after your physical health can make a difference to how you feel emotionally. For example, it can help to:

  • Try to get enough sleep. For lots of people who experience depression, sleeping too little or too much can be a daily problem. Getting good sleep can help to improve your mood and increase your energy levels. See our pages on coping with sleep problems for tips to help.
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. See our pages on food and mood for more tips.
  • Try to do some physical activity. If you find exercise a challenge remember that even gentle activities like yoga, swimming or walking can be a big boost to your mood. See our pages on physical activity for more information.
  • Try to look after your hygiene. When you're experiencing depression, it's easy for hygiene to not feel like a priority. But small things, like taking a shower and getting fully dressed whether or not you're going out of the house, can make a big difference to how you feel.
  • Try to avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might want to use drugs or alcohol to cope with any difficult feelings, in the long run they can make you feel worse. See our pages on the mental health effects of recreational drugs and alcohol for more information.

"My eyes, skin, throat and muscles ache. I find it difficult to concentrate. I can't take in information or think things through to organise properly and my short-term memory is unreliable at that time of year. Evenings come as a relief. I feel my muscles relaxing as the sun goes down."

How I found the joy in SAD

"By December, I am absolutely shattered mentally and physically and the best cure is just to go to sleep."

This information was published in February 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

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