Winter Depression - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
With the lack of light and the ongoing short days, many people find themselves lacking energy, develop a persistent low mood and become irritable. Some have feelings of despair and guilt, some feel worthless and it's not uncommon to feel a change towards craving carbs, gaining weight and sleeping more during the day.
When suffering from SAD, it's easy to lose interest in activities which normally bring joy. Some avoid social activities, some have less interest in sex, and it's normal to be more tearful. Overall, these symptoms are consistent with depression, but what characterises SAD is the seasonal aspect in the sense that symptoms occur repetitively during the darker months of the year.
For many expats, this aspect of living in the Northern countries comes as a complete surprise. Many have experience with winters, but associate these with sun light bouncing off beautiful white snow and are unprepared for the doom and gloom you can feel when the weather is heavily dark, wet and windy.
Whilst living in London, many people asked me if I didn't find it depressing never to see daylight during the Danish winter months. As the shortest day in Denmark has around 7 hours of daylight, this was a slight exaggeration, but nonetheless it gave me opportunity to have a think about how to approach this change in my life when I moved back to Denmark:
In November I try to focus on getting outside to enjoy the beautiful leaves and Autumn colours, in December I soak up "jule-hygge" and time with my family. Also, I am mindful that already a few weeks into the new year, the mornings become slightly lighter. And it's just about now or a few days from now, that those of us who venture out early in the morning will experience slightly more daylight on our commute to work. What bliss!
When I feel like hibernating, I allow myself to function at a lower pace; I often meditate and make a point of getting some fresh air every day; preferably during my lunch break. Furthermore, I am conscious of filling my time during those dark winter months with tasks such as deep cleaning the house, planning the marketing for my practice and participating in courses which I would rather not spend time doing during the lighter time of the year. This gives me a sense of purpose - and obviously make those dark times pass faster.
Below are a few tips for how to improve your mood and energy, but if you feel unable to cope with these on your own, it's important that you consult your GP and/or seek help from a psychologist or a psychotherapist.
What can you do to alleviate SAD on your own
On a daily basis, be mindful to get as much daylight as you can
Open the curtains and sit near the windows when inside
Consider getting hold of a light therapy lamp
Implement exercise into your life
Talk to your GP about taking a vitamin D supplement
You are welcome to reach out for a 30 minutes free consultation to hear how I can help you if you suffer from SAD; click here to make contact.
First posted Nov 2020; revised Jan 2023.