Life&Style writer Ilina Jha shares her experiences with Seasonal Affective Disorder and offers tips to treat mild cases

Written by Ilina Jha
Images by Ankhesenamun

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is seasonal, usually affecting people in the winter months. It is thought to be linked to the fact that we receive less sunlight during this season, affecting the production of melatonin and serotonin. In turn, this disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. It can vary from mild to severe, and symptoms can include low mood, lack of energy, and craving carbohydrates.

Symptoms can include low mood, lack of energy, and craving carbohydrates

Over the past few years, I have personally struggled with low mood and lethargy during the winter months. Whilst November, December, and early January have the excitements of Diwali, Christmas, and my birthday to keep my spirits up, I find that the rest of January and February tend to be my ‘low point’ in the year.

There are many ways in which you can treat mild SAD yourself. Here are some of the things that work for me.

Getting out for a walk in daylight:

Of course this is much easier said than done, particularly when you are feeling very low and tired. What I find helpful is telling myself that I only need to go outside for five minutes – five minutes, and then I can go back inside. Why do this? Well, firstly, five minutes outside in daylight is better than no time outside at all – you will definitely receive some benefit. But more importantly, I usually find that once I’m outside, I’m usually quite happy to stay outside for longer. As with so many things (like writing essays!), starting is the hardest part. So this ‘five minute rule’ can be very useful.

Spend time with family and friends:

As with all mental health conditions, talking about it can really help. Close friends and family can make a great support network. For many of us, being at University means that close family are far away. Take advantage of phone calls and social media to keep in regular contact.

Light therapy:

Light therapy involves sitting next to a light box, which works by acting as artificial sunlight. This is thought to help your brain produce serotonin, that classic ‘happy hormone’. Also, it reduces melatonin production which makes you feel lethargic. Although light therapy does not work for everyone, it can be helpful for many people struggling with SAD. My family invested in a light box last winter – I definitely found it very helpful, and will be using it again. Of course, the expense of a light box is not one that everyone can afford, particularly amidst the current cost of living crisis. However, if you do have the means to buy or borrow one, I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

If, however, these measures do not work for you, or if you suffer from more severe SAD, then seek advice from your GP

Basic self-care:

Eating healthily, exercising,  getting good quality sleep and taking care of your physical health is always beneficial to help cope with SAD. Again, this can be easier said than done; however, making a concerted effort to focus on these can really help if you’re struggling. Additionally, taking the time to do things that you enjoy outside of your studies is important. The stresses of University work may exacerbate SAD symptoms – if you are struggling to cope with your studies and stress levels, seek advice from your College Wellbeing Team.

These lifestyle treatments should be very helpful in treating mild SAD. If, however, these measures do not work for you, or if you suffer from more severe SAD, then seek advice from your GP. You may find treatments such as talking therapy and antidepressants helpful.

You can find more information about SAD and how to treat it on the NHS website.

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