Are you feeling SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects around 3 in 100 of us during the winter months, when a lack of daylight can cause a range of symptoms from mild fatigue through to severe depression. With Lockdown 3 currently curtailing our sunlight access even more than usual, it’s important to know the signs of SAD, and how you can treat it.


SAD is characterised by low mood which occurs around Autumn and Winter every year, and lifts as the days get lighter in the Spring and Summer. The symptoms can be very similar to generalised depression, but they only occur during the autumn and winter months. Fatigue, loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy, sleep disturbance (especially problems waking up), and difficulty concentrating can all be tell-tale signs. It is important to consult your GP if you believe that you have SAD so that they can rule out other forms of depression first.


While treatments for SAD can be similar to those for other types of depression – medication, cognitive behavioural therapy – there is one specific simple treatment which can help alleviated SAD symptoms: Light Therapy.


Spending time in natural daylight, particularly while exercising, can help to keep SAD symptoms at bay, but of course during lockdown that is easier said than done! Moving your workspace next to a window or into a conservatory may help, but if you can’t rely on natural daylight, then you might consider purchasing a lightbox that has been specially designed to treat SAD. These emit bright artificial light, and the theory behind them is that they stimulate your body to make feel-good chemicals and hormones to boost your mood. The earlier in the day you can use it the better – some people even have lightbox alarms which wake them up with a simulated sunrise. You shouldn’t use your lightbox after 5pm as you may have too much energy to get to sleep later!


If you decide to try light therapy, you should notice a difference in your symptoms within a couple of weeks, and then you can set up a schedule of using the lightbox early in the Autumn as soon as the days begin to shorten, to prevent your symptoms starting in the first place. Remember to consult your GP before starting with light therapy if you have any eye problems or take medicines that make you photosensitive.


Once the working world goes back to normal, if you have colleagues or employees who suffer from SAD, it’s a good idea to allow them to bring a lightbox into work with them (or even provide one for them) in order to help them stay productive and happy. There are even portable versions available for those whose jobs involve a lot of travel, or multi-site working.