SAD: how to maintain mental health in autumn and winter

It’s that time of year again – the leaves are turning warm shades of gold and red, knitwear is back on the agenda and you suddenly have the urge to drink something spiced. It’s the best. Or is it?

In the land of Instagram and blogging, where cute hats and Starbucks cups are necessary autumnal accessories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the entire world is celebrating the end of summer.

I love a crisp autumn morning, the feeling of warm, orange sunlight and seeing my breath dance in front of me. I even don’t mind the odd rainy day or two. Still, that bit only seems to last five seconds and then BAM. We’re into the depths of winter.

It’s actually easy to see why seasonal change presents so many difficulties for mental health. The sudden drop in temperature, lack of light and shorter days can make life feel really quite bleak. These factors can affect us so severely that they resemble symptoms of depression. This is what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s as descriptive an acronym as I’ve ever come across and is estimated to affect 1 in 15 people between September and April.

Of course, there’s absolutely sod all we can do about the season changing. What we can do, however, is try and make the best of it. Mental health, eh? It’s doesn’t half ask a lot.

5 ways to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

1. Fake it with a lamp

At home, we have a daylight-simulating lamp/alarm clock hybrid, which is legit the best thing ever when winter’s all like “Hey better turn up your heating because shit’s getting real now”. We can set it to various degrees of daylight and about half an hour before the alarm ruins my life, the lamp emits a soft, warm glow that fills the room.

It doesn’t solve all ills – it’s probably still shit outside, of course – but it does take the edge off those all-important first moments of the day.

If you suffer with SAD severely, you can also look into light therapy.

2. Keep your diet balanced

I think we can all agree that as winter approaches, it’s very easy to let your diet slide in favour of those oh-so-comforting meals.

Craving carbohydrates can actually be a symptom of SAD, which seems obvious when you think about it. They’re the perfect way to spike up your energy levels and give you a quick rush. I’m hardly one to preach about healthy eating but if you’re suffering from low mood, there really is a lot to be said for ‘everything in moderation’.

Just remember: life’s too short not to order the pizza when only a Domino’s will do (this GIF tho omg).

3. I hate to say it but…

…now is a great time to join a gym (please stop laughing). The shitty weather is only going to give you more excuses to not exercise outdoors and they’re light, airy spaces. It doesn’t have to be the machines (though there should be plenty of space on those). You could join a classes to add a little socialising into your week, or take up badminton or swimming.

Alternatively, I thoroughly recommend FitnessBlender.com (also on YouTube). Here you can find workouts that suit your lifestyle that can all be done at home – most of them don’t even need equipment 🙂

4. Keep people in the loop

It’s hard to get up in the morning when it’s dark and you’re feeling down. You might find yourself rushing around, stuck in traffic while it drizzles and turning up to work late.

If this only seems to happen seasonally, it’s a good idea to let your manager know. Many workplaces are willing to (and should) make reasonable adjustments. These can include anything from simply shuffling tasks around when you’re feeling low or tired, to changing your working hours.

It really depends on how far seasonal changes affect you, but even small changes can help you feel more comfortable day to day.

5. Keep track of your habits and emotions

This really only applies to people who feel they may actually have SAD. Whether it’s through a notepad or an app, document how you’re feeling daily. We’ve been known to have heatwaves as late as October in England, so it’s probably also worth noting down if it was a particularly dark and dreary day or pleasant and sunny.

A journal or diary can be absolutely invaluable if you decide to make an appointment with your GP. It gives you peace of mind without relying on memory, and them some much-needed insight – both of which can get you a diagnosis.

Know someone facing mental health issues?

Autumn and winter can be trying. It takes so much effort to get motivated and it’s all too easy for our mental health to take a turn for the worse. You might notice plans get cancelled more often and even when you do manage to socialise with us, we’re a little bit down in the dumps.

Sometimes, mental health is hard for reasons beyond our control. Try to be patient with us. Just know that for a while, we might prefer a cosy Netflix marathon or gaming session than a big party or dinner out. Remember that you are the biggest, shiniest of gemstones and we appreciate your efforts no end.

If I could send Will Arnett to everyone to thank them personally I would. I can’t, so here he is in GIF form:

Find out more about SAD on the NHS website

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