Are you experiencing SAD this winter?

Whilst we are well and truly into the winter months by now, there are many of us who find this time of year difficult. Even though the evenings are already getting lighter, the winter weather and darkness will still be around for a little longer. This can make us feel down and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), brought about by the change in seasons. 

We’ve outlined below some information about SAD and a few ideas of how we can help ourselves. 

What is SAD?

SAD is commonly referred to as seasonal or winter depression, and it is characterised by severe and overpowering emotions of melancholy that can impair day-to-day functioning. SAD is a type of depression that is triggered by the change of seasons, and it has a cyclical pattern, beginning and ending at about the same time every year. For some people symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, but SAD can also occur in other seasons of the year. SAD stays true to its name; it does leave those affected by it feeling very sad

What are the symptoms?

SAD symptoms include fatigue, hopelessness, social withdrawal, loss of interest, low mood, and tearfulness and overwhelming sadness which are interfering with daily functioning. It is recommended to seek professional help when experiencing such overpowering emotions of sadness. 

How might this feel in the body?

Next to the shift in mental states, our bodies need time to adjust to the seasonal changes as well. As darkness grows, the human body starts producing more melatonin, a hormone responsible for making us more sleepy and less energized. Due to the decrease of light, levels of serotonin – the mood regulating hormone – also drop, which can lead to depression. 

How can we help ourselves and those around us?

If you are struggling, it is completely ok to ask for help or to prioritise helping yourself if you need it. Below are a few ideas of how to do so:

  • Seeking extra light, natural or through a light-box/lamp, can provide some light the body is craving. In Switzerland, one of the best ways to do this is to get outside, up in the mountains if you can, to boost vitamin D and serotonin levels. It’s often foggy around the lakes so going up higher can help increase exposure. 
  • Exercising and being outdoors are known to be great for our mental health (as well as physical). There are plenty of winter sports to be found here in Switzerland! Or alternatively indoor swimming and sports like badminton are also popular.
  • Eating healthy, balanced and nourished food can help support your body in these colder months.
  • Connecting with family and friends, joining a new club or going out to an event can also be key. 
  • Finding a new hobby to try may help distract your mind and you never know you might find something you really enjoy!
  • Speaking to your healthcare professional can be hugely beneficial if you’re not sure where to start or need a little extra support. 

There are also many resources to help you should you be feeling the effects of SAD. Check out our Mental Health Initiative or call the Heart2Heart service. This service is in English and available for free all over the country. 

If you would like to read more about SAD then Mind is also a great place to start.

(Contributions from Katalin Szentgyörgyi, Trainee in Counselling)

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