Top tips for dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the nights draw in and the mornings feel duller, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes a  reality for many people. Winter tends to be a particularly challenging time for people who suffer  with Season Affective Disorder and some people can go on to  develop secondary health problems as a result.

There is no cure for SAD, but if you do suffer from this disorder, there are steps you  can take to reduce its impact. Anticipating the onset of SAD, and understanding the triggers, can help you bring it under control.

SAD Triggers

Like many milder depressive and anxiety disorders, SAD is related to levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in humans, plants and animals and has a number of purposes in the human body:

·  It helps to regulate mood

·  It aids digestion and may assist with healing wounds

·  It promotes effective learning

·  It aids restful sleep

In people with SAD, the reduction in natural daylight is believed to cause a drop in serotonin.

In a 2014 study, the University of Copenhagen studied brain scans to find out why some people develop SAD. They found that levels of available serotonin are reduced in winter months as the body produces more SERT, a transporter protein which reduces the brain’s ability to access mood- enhancing serotonin. This was a relatively small study, so more work is needed to investigate its findings.

Light therapy

Light therapy is a simple way of lessening the impact of SAD. A specially-designed light emits a particular quality of light that is close to natural sunlight, mimicking the effect of sunshine and elevating mood and helping to boost the production of serotonin in the brain.

SAD lights range from basic desk lamps through to large light boxes. Some have alarms and can mimic the effect of a sunrise in the morning to wake you gently and naturally. Some studies have suggested that this is the most effective time to use light therapy.

If you decide to use light therapy to combat SAD, choose a light that is specifically made for this purpose as normal table lights or LED lights may not be effective. Check the instructions carefully to determine how far away you should sit, and for how long, and look for a brightness of at least 2,500 lux.

You should remember to switch off SAD lights in the presence of young children, animals or people who suffer from eye or skin sensitivity and see your doctor if you notice any adverse effects, such as headaches.

Cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be used to help to combat many different types of depression and anxiety, and it is often combined with talking therapies such as counselling.

These treatments are particularly effective in people who want to break unhelpful habits, or talk through problems that may be making their SAD worse.

Herbal remedies 

If you want to avoid anti-depressant drugs, you could try traditional herbal remedies containing St John’s Wort such as HRI Good Mood, a traditional herbal medicinal product used to relieve the symptoms of slightly low mood and mild anxiety based on traditional use.

Two tablets provide the strongest daily dose on the UK market.

Lifestyle changes

MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity, recommends lifestyle changes to help defeat SAD which include:

· Getting outdoors in the daytime when it is light (even if it’s dull)

· Exercising frequently, particularly outdoors, even if it’s just a walk in the park

· Eating balanced, healthy meals

· Wearing sunglasses less often so that the eye benefits from increased light

· Changing home décor so light is reflected

· Trying to avoid stressful situations or major upheaval at home over the winter months – if possible plan to tackle these over the spring or summer months

· Booking a holiday to sunnier climes during the winter, providing you can cope with the change when you return


With the right support and treatment, SAD doesn’t need to make you a prisoner over the winter months.