Many of us have heard of or had some experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This is when the cold, dark days of winter impact on our mental health, causing a form of depression. People with SAD experience things like low mood, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, loss of self-esteem. This list is certainly not exhaustive – everyone is different, but there are people who struggle more with their mental wellbeing in the winter than at other times of the year.

What causes SAD, anyway?

The short answer is: it’s not always clear. There are some largely agreed-upon possible factors, which people tend to believe are a psychological response to physiological effects, such as an increase in melatonin levels due to the lack of light causing low energy and lethargy, or a reduction in energy levels because of how cold it is and the amount of energy your body uses just to stay warm. It could also be related to the general lack of exercise we get when it’s miserable outside and we haven’t been for a long walk in weeks. It’s extremely likely that the causes and combinations of factors are different for everyone.

What can I do if I think I might have SAD?

Find a counsellor to talk to. It may sound counter-intuitive at first: why see a counsellor for something that is probably physiological? Well, chances are no matter the other interventions you try – light boxes, holidays to sunnier climes, medication – you will still feel those physiological effects over the course of the winter. There’s no way to get rid of winter entirely, unless you’re happy to uproot yourself and move far, far away. By finding someone to talk to about how you’re feeling, and how the season is impacting on your life, you can take charge of how you respond. A counsellor can help you re-frame how you’re looking at life, maybe give you some ideas of how you can cope with SAD without spending the whole winter hibernating.

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