Seasonal affective disorder – Are you SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder – Are you SAD?

One of the most common phrases in my clinic at the moment is “ I hate this time of year” and there may be good reason for this.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is experienced by about 4 % of the population with another 10-20% possibly experiencing it in a milder form. Women are more likely to experience SAD than men.

SAD is a form of depression, which comes about in the winter months therefore it is sometimes called the winter depression. We are not fully sure what is happening to cause SAD but we do know that,  as the clocks change and daylight hours reduce.  It’s thought that the reduction of sunlight impacts the production of certain chemicals in our brain, which are responsible for our maintaining our mood. The area of the brain thought to be impacted is the hypothalamus.

Common symptoms of SAD

  • Persistent low mood
  • Less enjoyment from activities
  • Reduced energy
  • Less motivation
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Tearful

How Cognitive behavioural therapy helps

CBT is recognised as one of the most effective treatment approaches for SAD, CBT explores the patterns we find ourselves in, how our thinking affects how we feel and what we do is explored. In understanding our patterns we can begin to understand the key elements affecting our mood.

Initially in treatment you would complete an in depth diary of your mood alongside what you are doing at certain times. Some people feel worse in the morning and others in the evening, some people feel better at certain times in the day. Once the diary has been completed for a few days you would then work with your therapist to see what is happening on the days and times when your mood is better and do more of the things which help your mood.

Increasing activities that are anti-depressant for you is one of the first steps forward in treating SAD as it increases the production of the feel good chemicals.

With most illnesses we wait to feel better before we do things but with any type of low mood it’s the reverse which will help. It’s not easy with the low energy and lack of motivation often experienced in depression but research tells us it works, working with a therapist as a guide can provide the motivation to keep going when things are difficult. CBT focuses on the here and now and helps you to alter thinking patterns along with behaviours that could be contributing to how you feel.

Another important factor is to recognise that you are unwell and like any other illness you need to take care of yourself, get support tell people how you feel, exercise, keep hydrated and have good nutrition, take the holistic approach and ask yourself each day – What can I do that’s antidepressant today?

Get started with some simple and practical CBT strategies today by downloading this useful Mood Builder – learn how to improve your mood

Links worth clicking

Podcast – Do you have depression? What you can do

Understanding Depression

What is the CBT Journal and how can it improve your mental health


If you think you may have SAD and are not having any help please see your general practitioner for advice.


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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at