I woke in the middle of the night recently, feeling very cold. That hadn’t happened for a while, and I had to find warm pyjamas and a heavier duvet before I got comfortable again.

I’ve also noticed how quickly the evenings are drawing in this year and how dark it’s becoming. All this feels rather sooner than I’d like. However, it’s not a big problem for me. I love all the seasons and adjust pretty happily between them.

I’m lucky. For many individuals though, the advent of winter spells nothing but gloom. They dread the long evenings, feel every day is a struggle, and hate having to go to work, and return home, in the dark. Indeed, the very suspicion of a chill in the air causes a plummet in mood.

So, this week, I’m writing about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. This is a form of depression and can make people very miserable. However, as with many mental health conditions, there are strategies that can help. And if you’re a sufferer, I really hope there are some ideas here you might put in place now, before your mood darkens further and it becomes more difficult.

Symptoms of SAD

It’s common to feel:

  • A sense of dread
  • ·Lack of interest in normal activities
  • ·Less energetic than usual
  • ·A need to sleep more
  • ·A desire to binge on carbohydrate-rich foods.

Managing the condition

So, what can you do? Firstly, try to schedule several high-spots a week into your winter months. Instead of staying home, and becoming more sedentary and isolated, take up a new hobby or revisit an old one. This is the time of year when many evening classes start up again.

What about booking something such as dance, a foreign language, DIY, football training, singing, or joining a community theatre group? There is so much on offer. What would take you out of yourself?

Last week, I went to my first choir practice of the autumn. I belong to Stowmarket Chorale, and as soon as I stepped into the rehearsal room, my mood lifted.

In recent months, I’ve rediscovered how the combination of the physical act of singing, plus the company of others enjoying the same activity, not only produces a wonderful sound but generates huge joy.

What might lift your spirits? Why not do some serious thinking about it, select something, then make a commitment to do it?

Having sorted one night a week, how about arranging to meet up regularly with a bunch of good mates on another? This doesn’t have to cost a lot. A takeaway in the kitchen at a different friend’s place every week. A night of streaming a feel-good movie. Pick something you like. Get this sorted now and stick to it. Fixed pleasure-points can really lift your spirits.

Get outside

Most of us have less of an urge to go outside in the winter, but it’s important that we do. Sunshine is a natural elevator of mood. And the more daylight we can expose ourselves to during winter months the better. So, look out for any hint of brightness and get out in it. This will boost your levels of Vitamin D, which drop in the winter months.

And what about a supplement? Personally, I think that taking Vitamin D helps a lot of people stay happier and healthier. But if you’re in any doubt – because of other conditions or medications you’re taking – please check with your Health Centre. And if you decide to take it, do note that the NHS recommendation for UK adults is no more than 100 micrograms (or 4000 international units) daily.

Winter holiday

SAD sufferers frequently benefit from taking their annual holiday during the winter months. It breaks up the long run of dark and dreary days – especially if you can afford a trip somewhere with guaranteed sunshine.

SAD lightboxes

Do lightboxes work? Undoubtedly, they do, for some people. And many folk report improvement within a couple of weeks. But make sure that the product you buy is registered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

There’s good advice on all aspects of what to buy, and how to deal with SAD, on the internet, notably from the NHS and Which? websites.

Unfortunately, some individuals are advised not to use a SAD lamp, including people who are taking medication which increases sensitivity to light, and those adults who have bipolar, or ageing eye conditions such as macular degeneration. This is important, so please, if you have any doubts at all about whether you should have light therapy, take advice from your GP.

Having SAD is horrible. But if you suffer from it, have a go at some of the tactics I’ve discussed. Perhaps this can be the year you avoid your normal winter despair. I really hope so.