You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or heard joking references to people feeling like they want to go into hibernation at the onset of winter, but SAD is actually more common than you may have realised, and can be much more serious than just a case of the ‘winter blues’.

The NHS estimates that 2 million people in the UK are affected by SAD, and for some it can be extremely debilitating. But even the moderate depressive symptoms of SAD are disruptive and unpleasant for the sufferer. So how can we help ourselves, our employees and our colleagues? Well, firstly, we have to know what we’re dealing with.

What are the symptoms?

As with all forms of depression, the key symptoms of SAD include a low mood and a loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities. But some other symptoms can include:

  • feeling irritable, tearful, apathetic or anxious;
  • suffering from frequent minor illnesses such as colds;
  • low self-esteem, feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
  • lack of energy, over-eating, and changes to sleep patterns.

The type and severity of symptoms will of course vary from person to person, and they can often get worse as winter develops and exposure to sunlight decreases.

How can you get help?

Speaking to your GP can enable you to access help, which may include light therapy, talking therapies like CBT, or anti-depressants. But there are also plenty of simple things you can do for yourself to prevent or alleviate symptoms:

  • As always, participating in regular exercise is a key factor in feeling well.
  • Try to experiment with some new activities so you can find one that you enjoy. If it’s fun, you’re far more likely to keep doing it.
  • Try to increase the amount of sunlight you are exposed to. Taking a walk at lunchtime, and ensuring you spend some time outdoors at the weekends can be really helpful. And if you are stuck inside, try to be near a window.
  • Ensure you’re maintaining a healthy, balanced diet – plenty of fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts will help to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. Don’t add to the stress your body and brain are already under by eating junk food and drinking too much alcohol.
  • If possible, avoid stressful situations and try to find techniques that work for you to help manage existing stress.

Of course, if symptoms are severe, people may not feel that they have the motivation or ability to tackle SAD themselves. In this case it is particularly important that they are encouraged to seek help from their GP. Like with other depressive illnesses, support from friends and family can be invaluable.

For more information and help, have a look at www.mind.org.uk or www.nhs.uk.