Seasonal Affective Disorder – here’s what you need to know to combat its effects

Experts say that as Spring begins, one in three people feel more energetic than usual.

And for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the brighter days can be especially welcome.

The HSE says the symptoms of SAD are “like normal depression, but occur at a specific time of year.”

Symptoms usually begin in the fall or winter and improve in the spring. Some people may only have mild symptoms. For others, the symptoms can be severe and have a major impact on their daily lives.

However, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic says, “Less commonly, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer” and resolves in the fall or winter months.

Treatments can include light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication.


Using light therapy can make a difference for those suffering from SAD symptoms. Photo: Getty Images

Brendan Kelly, a professor of psychiatry at Trinity College, says when there’s less light, the human body produces melatonin, a hormone related to sleep, and “that leads to chemical changes in the brain.”

Darker days cause traits similar to depression, such as decreased energy, lack of motivation to socialize, and low interest in daily activities. But it is important to know that the two diseases do not go hand in hand.

“Unlike major depressive disorder, people with SAD are more likely to have increased sleep needs and appetite, along with cravings for chocolate and carbohydrate-rich foods,” says Prof. Kelly.

The disorder can be further developed between the months of December to February. According to Prof. Kelly, one in three people feel more energetic than usual when spring and summer make themselves felt.

Treat yourself like your best friend – with compassion, patience and kindness

Because it is possible to predict the time of year when symptoms may appear, serious changes in energy levels, mood, and appetite can be avoided.

Psychotherapist and counselor Linda Breathnach says it’s very important to resist the temptation to isolate and instead reach out for support when symptoms arise. “Don’t keep it to yourself, seek informal or professional help,” she says.

Ms Breathnach says she finds it important to learn to relax when feelings of stress are showing. “You can use meditation and practices from online websites and connect with nature and people,” she says. “Treat yourself like your best friend – with compassion, patience and kindness.”

Both experts agree that one of the most effective solutions is spending time in the sun when possible, such as exercising outdoors when the weather permits.


Physical activity like bicycling is a great way to combat the negative effects of seasonal affective disorder

There is also a therapy called “Light Box” that some find helpful, which is like sunlight but without the ultraviolet rays. It is usually used 20-30 minutes a day but can be used longer depending on the light intensity, ideally at breakfast time.

The light box is designed to deliver a therapeutic dose of bright light to treat SAD symptoms.

The latest Met Éireann report shows that the number of cloudy days in the last month ranged from 10 days at some stations to 16 days at the Valentia Observatory, Co Kerry and Belmullet, Co Mayo.

The HSE’s advice on their website is “Speak to your GP if you think you have SAD and are finding it difficult to cope.”

Tips against SAD

Watch your diet

It is very important to be aware of what you eat as it is behavior related. Healthy eating habits can help you feel more positive and cheerful. Experts recommend adding more fruit to your diet.

Go for a stroll

Even when it’s cold and cloudy outside, external light can be of great help on those days when someone is in a bad mood. Pushing yourself to go for a walk or do some exercise can lift your feelings, especially in the morning.


It is important to rely on close family or friends to talk about your concerns. Advice can be given and professional help can be suggested if needed.

Plan your activities

From hiking, biking, and enjoying the great outdoors, there are many activities that we can all participate in and enjoy. Seasonal Affective Disorder – here’s what you need to know to combat its effects

Fry Electronics Team

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