A few days ago we celebrated the first day of Autumn. Despite the cold, Autumn can be a time of great joy and excitement with Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas all rolled up into the next few months. Before you know it we’ll be putting logs onto the fire and singing along with Mariah Carey and I am really excited. But behind the scenes, there is a different story. A story where I need the whole day to work myself up to attending the Christmas Fayre that is literally right outside my doorstep. Enter Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The definition of Seasonal Affective Disorder according to the mental health charity MIND is described as the following:
“A form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season. It is a recognised mental health disorder. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – it’s normal to be more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, or to find that you eat more or sleep longer in the winter. However if you experience SAD, the changes in season will have a much greater effect on your mood or energy levels, and lead to symptoms of depression that may have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.”
There are two main types Seasonal Affective Disorder: Wintertime and Summertime. In general, Wintertime is more common due to the natural affect the winter months have on all living things. According to Health Line, the symptoms of each are:
feelings of hopelessness
lack of interest in social activities
reduced sexual interest
lack of appetite
Are you with me so far?
So to summarise, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of Major Depressive Disorder that exists primarily in a certain season. Wintertime SAD exists as depressive symptoms whereas Summertime SAD has more resemblance to Anxiety Disorder.
Do I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you feel that you relate to these symptoms then it is a good idea to refer to your doctor and discuss your options. While SAD will only affect you during a certain season, or present far more severely during that season, if you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or suicide then your doctor will be able to find the right diagnosis and plan of action for you. However, if you are already diagnosed with a different depressive disorder or don’t feel you can visit the doctor, then there are plenty of self care exercises you can do to self manage. We’ll get to that later on.
How Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Alter My Day-To-Day Life?
It’s all very easy to list symptoms but what is it about SAD that is so difficult? I suffer with depression and anxiety all year round so what is it about these few months that really get to me. Why am I afraid of the winter period and why do I get so anxious when September rolls around?
My Experience With Wintertime SAD
My depression has got progressively worse over the years that I have had it, but one thing has always remained painstakingly clear: the shorter the days are, the worse my depression is. It starts off very much like a fear that I can’t shake. Almost as if I can feel the gap between dawn and dusk closing in around my skull. The night time creeps in on you slowly and then all at once (John Green please don’t sue me) as daylight saving hours brings sunset a whole hour closer overnight.
The symptoms are the same as my regular depression, but they are longer and more intense. At times I will lose my ability to feel love and compassion, a symptom that is scarce in the summer months. Some days, I won’t be able to get out of bed before it is already dark and that sets me up for the exact same thing the next day. The triggers are far stronger in the winter and feeling cold simulates anxiety which can lead to disassociation and, in severe cases, panic attacks.
My relationships are most affected. I can go long periods of time without feeling affection towards anyone. I seek comfort in people and then use their reassuring statements against them. I can often fluctuate between believing I’m completely in love and hating someone with no in between. It can be really disheartening.
Guest Excerpt from Ali:
I have depression 365 days a year, but the hardest days, by far, are in the winter. When the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, my depression and anxiety get about 10x worse. Think depression on steroids. I always start to feel it in the fall. When everyone else is excited for cooler weather, pretty leaves, and Halloween, I start to get worried because I know what’s lurking just around the corner.
I’m not sure why it happens exactly, besides my brain just sucking major, but it’s horrible. Lack of sunlight and colder weather means there’s nothing to do, no way to distract myself, so I spend a little more time with negative thoughts.
As far as how it feels, I can be surrounded by family, especially during the holidays, and just feel this looming sense of loneliness. Enjoying my favorite things, such as reading, writing, makeup, and blogging, just stops happening, due to lack of motivation.
The only thing that keeps me going is probably the fact that once the spring comes around, and the weather gets warmer, I’ll be back to my “regular” depression, which has always been easier for me to manage.
You can find more of Ali’s writing here
My Experience With Summertime SAD
Guest excerpt from Gina:
Usually you hear of SAD with the emphasis on wintertime. You start seeing the targeted ads and helpful guides on how to cope as the nights get darker, but what happens when you get SAD around the summertime? For years I thought I was weird for hating summer so much, and it wasn’t until my late teens that I discovered why. I’m usually a winter lover. Big jumpers, hot chocolate and duvet days, those are what I live for. But when it comes to Summer I’m actually at a loss. For me, a few things bundled together bring out my Seasonal Affective Disorder. For one, my self confidence. I loathe Summerwear, hate getting my legs out and generally feel uncomfortable in the sun. I like to tan but I hate how hot it is and I literally just want the sun to go down so I can chill out a little more. It can feel overwhelming at times and I think the daunting feeling just adds to my mood (which doesn’t help). But over the years I’ve been able to cope a little more. My therapist helps me a lot and I’m starting to enjoy the odd drink in a beer garden!
For more from Gina, don’t forget to visit her blog!
Guest excerpt from Zoe:
Trying to sleep in summer is absolutely unbearable, and unfortunately for me, my mental health really suffers if I don’t get a good nights sleep. I haven’t felt well rested since March. I don’t function well at work, my concentration is lower, my temper is much shorter, and I lack motivation to do anything more than the bare minimum. The intense heat and humidity also doesn’t help my anxiety because it constantly feels like I have no air to breathe. I can’t wait for the first cold night when I’ll actually sleep properly.
Excerpt taken from ‘4 reasons why summer is hard on our mental health’ on Zoe’s blog, which you can find here.
How Can I Get Over My Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Unfortunately, like most major depressive disorders, SAD is quite often chronic (meaning it cannot be cured but can be managed). We’re going to take the positives from this and focus on the fact that you can, indeed, manage it. It sometimes seems a lot of work, especially for those with depression, to keep up something constantly to feel okay. You may think: what’s the point? But here are some things that take very little effort at all and yet will make all the difference.
Managing Wintertime Seasonal Affective Disorder
This is something that can be the main problem for people with SAD. It is hard to get up in the mornings when it feels like it is still night time. Waking up to it being dark at 8am can be incredibly triggering and makes it almost impossible to start the day right. But then I got this lamp. I don’t know if mine is still issued or not because I have had it years but I’m sure many brands have followed the same concept. This lamp is your alarm clock. You choose your sounds, which can range from dawn chorus bird song to a babbling brook, and input the time you want to wake up and then the next morning it turns on about half an hour before you want to wake up, gradually increasing the brightness of the lamp before reaching full brightness at the time you want to wake up. This simulates a real sunrise and you’ll feel more ready to go when you wake up. The only snag is that I have to cover the display at night because it shows the time and, as my insomniac friends will know, its never good to know the time when you’re trying to sleep. I found one that is very similar at Boots. It costs £56.99 but the price is well worth it I promise you!
Note: the editor crashes every time I try to insert the link, but the product is called the Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30 Wake Up Light Alarm clock and it was cheapest at boots at the time of writing.
It can be difficult, especially when you’re working full time to ever see the sunlight. When the sun rises at 8:30 and sets at 16:00 it might feel like you never see the sun. This is why it is important to get at least 30 minutes outside during the day, every day. Seems impossible? Park your car a little further away from work in the mornings so you have to walk a little to get there and back, spend your lunch breaks in the surrounding area or don’t go straight home after work. If you find yourself doing nothing in the winter and it’s light outside then make the effort to go out. Believe me it makes so much difference to my day just knowing that, if I don’t do anything else, I always take my brother to school. This way I already have ten minutes of outside time clocked.
Be Routine About It
It will always be easier to cope if you have a routine Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. It’ll make it easier to sleep which reduces fatigue and that unproductive feeling that we all let slip into depression sometimes. It also means that you wake up in the mornings even if there’s no reason to. Once things become habit, it wont seem like a big deal anymore. The key to coping with any mental health issue is routine but don’t overwhelm yourself by planning out every aspect of your day. Just notice what time you’re doing things and try to keep them the same time every day.
Shower At Night
This works on two levels. Firstly, you’re cooler at night. Your hair is wet which cools you off and makes it easier to fall asleep and it also dampens the pillow giving a longer lasting cool effect. It also makes my curly hair dry less frizzy but that seems irrelevant. Secondly, it takes the burden off showering in the morning. It doesn’t mean you won’t shower in the morning but on days where showering is just another mental hurdle preventing you from getting ready, you know you can just stick on some deodorant and head out the door without feeling unclean.
Stay Cool At Night
This one seems unusual in the winter but I actually find it harder to sleep in the winter than the summer. Why? People like to be warm in the winter and leave the central heating on. That may be their style but it’s not mine. I always shower first, then leave my window open, radiator off and fan on. Sometimes I even put wet cloths on my back to cool me down. Its all about fighting insomnia. If you sleep well then you will always feel much better.
Managing Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder
This applies in the winter and the summer. The cooler your room is when you sleep, the easier it is to wake up and get going in the morning. Thinner blankets, open windows and fans help. Sleeping in a shadier spot prevents your bed from getting warm during the day and damp, wringed out clothing like socks or a tee shirt help in desperate circumstances.
Practice Self Confidence
Life can seem easier when you get to hide your beautiful features behind jumpers, scarves and hats but in the summer this just isn’t practical (or necessary). Take the time to find clothes that you really love for the summer. While there is a lot of emphasis on how we don’t need to be traditionally pretty nowadays (which we don’t) it can make you feel a lot better to spend some time on your makeup, hair and clothes to make sure you feel your best when you leave the house! I promise most of the time people are too bothered by themselves to notice what you look like and its much better to learn to love yourself than boil to death or stay indoors.
Eat and Drink
Seems a bit obvious but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to eat and drink enough. Summertime SAD can cause a loss of appetite and lack of motivation to eat. This doesn’t mean that eating isn’t important though. Set a timer on your phone and give yourself something you have to eat if not anything else. My go to is toast. Even if eating seems overwhelming, surely I can manage some toast. I usually decide that toast is boring and that I want something more interesting and then I eat. I mentioned it in this blog post but there is a water bottle that tells you how far down your water should be by certain points in the day. you need to drink the contents of the bottle twice over in a day and if you remember to drink you just drink down to where it says the time and you’re back on track!
Keep Your Routine
If you are a student, or in certain professions, then you will get 5-10 weeks of nothing to deal with in the Summer. For those without SAD, this time can be one of excitement or, at worse, mild boredom. For those with SAD it can mean loss of routine, loneliness and lack of purpose. It is important to take a break, but getting up at the same times and filling your summer calendar with different events may just help your symptoms a little bit. It is important to keep yourself occupied and not get carried away by thoughts.
Set Yourself Challenges
It can be difficult to feel you are achieving anything during the summer months but this can be easily remedied. Have you tried 30 day fitness challenges, or art challenges, or anything challenges really! If you type in 30 day challenge on Pinterest you will get some great results and you can use this as motivation in the summer. If you are in Britain then you are lucky that our summers tend not to last a considerable time but there are always things you can do to keep yourself occupied. I started this blog when I was bored in the summer! If you give yourself something to focus on, you never know, you might even be disappointed when summer comes to an end!
What Can We Take From This?
Hopefully this has meant a lot to many people. If you had never heard of it before then hopefully you understand better. You might think twice about criticising those who say they don’t like certain seasons. You might even look into it yourself and start spreading awareness yourself. If you have a loved one with this then you can increase your empathy and now you know ways to help those who struggle in the summer or the winter. Maybe you’ll even spot it in someone who hasn’t spotted it themselves and you can encourage them to seek help. Finally, hopefully some of my coping strategies can help those of you who struggle with it.
Remember that these are the experiences of myself and a few others. It is not a reflection of everyone’s illness and you should always seek help if you feel you suffer with these issues. A doctor will better tell you how to deal with your specific diagnosis and you should always talk to someone when you are suffering with mental health.
Here are my last 3 Mental Health posts:
The Safe Space
The Safe Space is an online database where I have collected the blogs of over 200 mental health bloggers and put them in one place! Because it is impossible to feel alone when there are so many people going through the same thing!
To find lots of new mental health bloggers, find The Safe Space in the sidebar or follow the link below:
That’s All Folks!
As always, if you need help you can always find me on Twitter or you can reach the Samaritans at 116 123.