Do darker months dampen your mood? Spot the signs that you could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder

The seasonal affective disorder (SAD) scale can range from a drop in mood to bouts of depression – and with the autumn and winter months drawing in, research from the Weather Channel and YouGov predicts that as many as 29% of adults will experience symptoms of SAD) with the changing of the seasons.

A condition that can touch those who don’t necessarily experience poor mental health at other times of the year, for some people SAD can quickly take over their lives, and make it so that they dread certain months. But the good news is there are many treatment options and avenues of support out there, so, if you suspect that you might be experiencing SAD and are struggling to cope, reach out to your GP or a mental health professional.

The best way to reclaim control, and ensure you get support as soon as possible, is to be aware of the signs to watch for. Here, we’re exploring some of the lesser-known symptoms of winter SAD, to help you take back control over the coming months.

1. Sleep problems

It can range from oversleeping to trouble falling asleep, or disturbed and restless nights, but the main thing to know is that sleep problems often come with SAD. It’s suspected that SAD is caused by seasonal changes which disrupt our circadian rhythm – the 24-hour body clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours – which may be what creates this link. So, if you notice changes to your sleeping patterns, or find you struggle more with sleep at certain times of the year, this could be a potential symptom of SAD.

2. Fatigue

Sleep problems may lead to fatigue, or you may experience unusual fatigue while still managing to get a standard night’s sleep. The fatigue could feel physical – your body may feel heavy and you might find yourself wanting to rest throughout the day – or it may be of a more mental fatigue, with lethargy or weariness.

3. Changes to your appetite

In the same way that depression can cause a change to your appetite, this is a symptom that can appear with SAD, and it includes both an increase and decrease in appetite. In addition, you may experience anxiety alongside low mood, which can affect your gut health and come with feelings of nausea.

4. Peaks and troughs

SAD can (to some extent) change with the weather – so, you may see that on days where we catch some winter sunshine, you feel a kind of relief. That said, SAD is more complex than simply: blue skies good, grey skies bad. You may find it helpful to track your mood through journaling, which will also help you to work out if there are coping mechanisms that are particularly effective for you.

5. Pessimism

When your mood drops, it’s easy to see how that can lead to you having a pessimistic outlook, and you may be able to spot this on a number of levels – from the way that you approach daily tasks, to your outlook on life, and the future more broadly.

woman looking out of the window

6. Trouble concentrating

Are you finding it difficult to get stuck into your daily tasks, or have you noticed that your to-do list is feeling a lot more intimidating lately? Be it mental fatigue, low mood, or – most likely – a combination of the two, our concentration levels can really take a hit when we’re struggling with our mental health. Brain fog can take over, and making decisions or completing tasks we can usually manage, feel much more exhausting and time consuming.

7. Burnout

Burnout is a separate mental health condition where individuals experience mental exhaustion as a result of high levels of stress. When you’re already living with SAD, you may be more likely to fall into burnout, as the challenges that you may have easily coped with before become much more burdensome.

8. Lack of interest in sex

You may notice a dip in your sex drive, or find reaching orgasm more challenging. This could be tied up with the symptoms of fatigue and low mood, but it’s also worth noting that some of the medication that is used to treat SAD can impact your sex drive. It’s therefore important to have open and honest discussions with your doctor about your treatment plans, so you know what to expect and to discuss any concerns.

9. Irritability

When you’re going through a difficult time, small things that would usually pass you by may feel much bigger. You might notice you’re more snappy with those around you, or that your temper has become shorter. A strong support system is really important at times like these, so if you find that SAD is impacting your relationships, it’s worth sitting down to have frank conversations with your loved ones about how you can work through this together.

10. Routines and schedules are harder to stick to

Trouble concentrating, sleep problems, and a sense of apathy, can all make sticking to the routines you had set up in your life a lot more difficult. That said, many people do find comfort in routines, especially if they include scheduled time for self-care. So, it may be that you need to adapt what is no longer working for you, into something that will support you now.

The key thing to remember is that when we’re able to watch out for the signs of SAD, we can better support ourselves by reaching out for help, considering what might be useful coping mechanisms for us, and putting in place healthy habits and a self-care action plan to ensure we have the best resources possible as we navigate this.


If you are struggling with SAD, reach out to a counsellor using counselling-directory.org.uk