With the January Blues in full swing many of us will feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but what is it?

SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes depending on the season, according to the NHS.

The mood changes can happen all year round but the symptoms tend to be more obvious in the winter.

We still don't know what exactly causes SAD but the disorder has been linked to a reduction in exposure to sunlight which is likely why it is more noticeable in the colder months.

Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms

The NHS has published a list of symptoms that you need to watch out for.

If you are displaying one or more of these symptoms, it may mean that you are suffering from the disorder:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

You can read more about the symptoms of SAD via the NHS website.

If you are struggling to cope with any of the above symptoms, the NHS recommends that you get in touch with your GP.

Do SAD lamps work?

As mentioned, we don't know exactly what causes SAD but the main theory is that it is related to our exposure to sunlight.

If there is a considerable reduction in sunlight - the kind we see in Autumn and Winter - a part of our brains called the hypothalamus is thought to stop working.

It is the part of the brain that controls our serotonin levels as well as our production of melatonin which is the hormone that makes us sleepy.

A lack of sunlight exposure is said to disrupt our body clock since our bodies use sunlight to tell us when to wake up and go to sleep.

SAD lamps attempt to mimic this sunlight and encourage your body to release serotonin also known as "the feel-good hormone".

Light therapy is widely used to help SAD disorders as well as some other conditions like Dementia, Circadian rhythm sleep disorders and even jet lag.

You should only invest in a SAD lamp if you have spoken to your GP to ensure that no other diagnoses are missed like Bipolar Disorder, Glaucoma, or Lupus.

If you are taking prescription medications including antipsychotics and antidepressants, you should seek a doctor's approval before using them.

Best ways to beat the winter blues

The NHS has shared some top tips to help alleviate the winter blues with suggestions covering everything from your diet to limiting the time you spend on your tech.

  1. Keep active
  2. Get outside (and experience as much natural daylight as possible)
  3. Keep warm (wear warm clothes and shoes and ideally keep the temperature of your home between 18C and 21C)
  4. Eat healthily
  5. Light therapy (ask your GP for more information)
  6. Start a new hobby
  7. See friends and family
  8. Start counselling, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or other talking therapies (ask your GP for more information)
  9. Join a support group
  10. Seek help

For more information, guidance and support, visit the NHS website.

Recommended reading

Free Mental Health Helplines

1 in 4 of us experience depression at one point in our lives, according to Mind.

If you or someone you love needs some support now and beyond Blue Monday, reach out to someone who can help on these free helplines:

  • Samartians - 116 123 
  • SANE Line -  0300 304 7000 
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK - 0800 689 5652 
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably - 0800 58 58 58 

For more information, guidance and support, visit the Mind website.