How to Prepare For Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter

During winter, the days become shorter, the weather gets colder and we spend less time outside in nature. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for people to generally start to feel a little low as winter sets in. While most of us can adapt fairly quickly, others may experience a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

If you have been diagnosed with SAD, or think you may have SAD but have not yet been diagnosed, below you will find some useful tips and information on how to prepare for seasonal affective disorder this winter and manage your symptoms better.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression. The theory is that due to the lack of sun, people with SAD can suffer from a significant decrease in a hormone called serotonin, that is responsible for our mood, appetite and sleep, and also experience an increase in the production of a hormone called melatonin, which makes us sleepy. There is also evidence that suggests a lack of sunlight has an impact on our body’s internal clock – making it difficult for those with SAD to manage sleep cycles. Usually, symptoms of SAD will dissipate as summer starts to begin, however, in some, more rare cases, people may experience SAD during the summer.

SAD can have a significant impact on a person’s life and often, just anticipating the onset of SAD can bring on feelings of anxiety and low mood sooner. Knowing how to prepare for seasonal affective disorder is key, and can help to better manage the symptoms and the impact on one’s life.

Key symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
  • Persistent low mood or feeling generally down
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty getting out of bed
  • Lack of interest in everyday activities
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Weight gain

How to Prepare For Seasonal Affective Disorder: 5 Tips

For some people with seasonal affective disorder, private therapy services from mental health experts can significantly reduce the impact of SAD through learning techniques to manage your mood, motivation and energy levels better.. There are several methods you can try at home that can help you to prepare for the effects of seasonal affective disorder, too.

1. Develop a sleep schedule

One of the most prominent features of SAD is difficulties with sleep. People with SAD will often feel excessively sleepy due to an increase in the production of a hormone called melatonin. Thus, those experiencing SAD are likely to pick up unhelpful sleep habits such as napping during the day, spending time awake and active in bed during the day (e.g. watching tv) and generally falling out of a routine with sleep.

Establishing healthy sleep habits can help to moderate the effect of SAD on sleep. Follow these sleep hygiene tips to improve your sleep routine:

  • Set reminders each night to sleep at the same time every night.
  • Set two alarms to help you wake up at the same time everyday, sometimes using an alarm clock that is walking distance from your bed can prompt you to get up.
  • If possible, try to get as much light as you can into your home during the day. Open the curtains as soon as you are up to help your energy levels.
  • Use specialist SAD bulbs/lamps. This artificial light can significantly help improve mood and energy levels by emitting light that replicates the sun.

2. Adjust your diet

When experiencing SAD, people have often reported craving carbohydrates which can add to a feeling of lethargy, and of course lead to weight gain. Try to plan for a healthy, filling diet to help curb the cravings.

  • Lean protein such as that in chicken breast carries lots of amino acids, which have a positive impact on mood and energy levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seeds, walnuts, and salmon have also been known to have a positive impact on mood.
  • Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries can help reduce the production of cortisol which is a hormone linked to stress.
  • Foods that are high in folic acid have also been linked to improved mood. Such foods include leafy greens, oatmeal, oranges, lentils, and soybeans.


3. Maintain a regular exercise schedule

It can be challenging to stay fit during the winter, especially if your favourite activity is usually engaged outdoors. Although it can get quite cold outside, try to keep up with the sports or workout routines that you typically enjoy, but find ways to adapt them when necessary. For example, if you’re a keen runner but the ground outside is icy, try a high-intensity workout indoors, or use a treadmill at a gym. If you are keen to engage with your chosen activity outdoors, then buy winter sportswear to keep yourself warm, and adjust the time of the day that you engage with that activity when possible, so that it is slightly warmer.

Scheduling your exercise can help you keep it consistent and will likely encourage you to do more of it – so consider setting reminders during the week.

4. Declutter or decorate

Making sure the space around you is welcoming and organised will make a greater difference to your mood than you might first think. Use the cold, wet days as an opportunity to get productive and creative indoors, by reorganising your space and decluttering, or making it unique to you by decorating. Whatever you decide, making changes to your space will not only keep you occupied, but will also give you a sense of accomplishment and allow you to get creative.

5. Stick to a morning routine

As previously mentioned, routine is vital for managing SAD, and developing a productive, enjoyable morning routine can be a game-changer. Simple adaptations to your morning routine such as ensuring you eat a healthy and energising breakfast, exercising, reading a chapter of a book or making a call to a friend can make it easier to get out of bed in the mornings. Set your alarm tone to a fun, upbeat song, or watch an episode of your favourite show while you get ready for the day. Whatever you decide, keeping things consistent and training your body to enjoy the mornings will be a fundamental part of coping with your SAD symptoms.

Professional Help For Seasonal Affective Disorder

If SAD is having a severe impact on your daily life, seeking professional help is recommended. Making lifestyle changes such as those mentioned above, can have a positive effect, but those showing persistent symptoms of SAD may benefit more from antidepressant medication, or talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling. Experts will be able to determine which treatment option is best for you, taking into account the severity of your symptoms and medical and mental health history. It may be that a combination of different treatments is the way forward for you – whatever the case, part of how to prepare for seasonal affective disorder this winter is to be open to different treatment options, and to reach out for professional support when necessary.

If you are struggling with seasonal affective disorder, or you are concerned about a loved one, get in touch with our therapists at Psymplicity Healthcare. As experts in mental health and a number of adult and childhood conditions, we can conduct an assessment, recommend a treatment plan and help you on your road to recovery.
Picture of Mavish S

Mavish S

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity. Since beginning undergraduate studies 13 years ago, Mavish has worked in various mental health settings within the charity, NHS and private sector. Mavish’s passion for learning and professional growth has led to a vastness of experience and accelerated growth in her career while delivering one-to-one therapy, group workshops, training and supervision for professionals and senior team management. Mavish is a keen writer and writes many of the articles on our website, as well of our self-help resources.

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