Seasonal affective disorder: The products that can help to ease symptoms, according to experts

Eva Waite-Taylor
·10 min read
Research suggests women are four times more likely to suffer from SAD than men (iStock/The Independent)
Research suggests women are four times more likely to suffer from SAD than men (iStock/The Independent)

Seasonal affective disorder (Sad) – sometimes known as "winter blues" or "winter depression" – is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, while it is not fully understood what causes the condition, it's thought that the reduced hours of sunlight during autumn and winter have a negative impact on your mood.

The shorter, darker days affect parts of the brain that regulate our bodily functions, which then causes a range of symptoms, including a sudden drop in mood, feeling less active, having less of an interest in life, and a desire to sleep more. But, by the time April arrives, symptoms often start to disappear as the days get longer and brighter.

While anyone can be affected by Sad, research has found that women are four times more likely to suffer from it than men.

While it's important for us all to look after our mental health, particularly during times when our routines have altered, Dr Luke Powles associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics, says that "with more of us working from home, it's increasingly common for people to feel cooped up".

"While the commute might’ve been frustrating, it was still a time to get outside. It’s the same with lunch breaks: lots of people are now eating at home, rather than popping outside as they would’ve done when in the office," he adds.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, mental health charity, say: "If you’re working from home and experiencing SAD, it’s important to make sure you take time to get outside as much as possible."

He suggests "going for walks when you can, spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window."

It's crucial then, as we enter into the autumn and winter months and continue to work from home, to think about the best ways to overcome these symptoms.

Thankfully, there are a number of things that we can do when working from home to help manage Sad. From changing your alarm to taking up meditation, our expert-approved round-up includes everything you need to add a little bit of brightness to your day.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Ditch coffee

While coffee might be what you reach for on a dark morning to give you energy, caffeine in energy drinks and coffee has been found to suppress levels of serotonin – a chemical in the brain that is thought to regulate mood, sleep, sleep, and memory.

Given the reduced exposure to light during winter months, it's likely that levels of serotonin will already be low, so swap your morning cup of java for best oatea, since it'll have less caffeine, but can still help with an alert state of mind. Black, green and oolong tea all contain an amino acid called theanine which works to improve focus and attention.

In our review of the best plastic-free teas, this Brew Tea Co proper tea early grey (Brew Tea Co, £7.99) came out tops, with our tester praising it for being "great for a weekend brew".

For more of an everyday cuppa, Clipper's every day tea (Clipper, £3.49) wins for its affordable price, yet great taste.

For maximum benefits, and just to keep you a little warmer during those chilly, darker days, drink five to six cups of tea, and we're sure you'll feel the same effects as your coffee, just without the serotonin depletion.

Invest in a Sad lamp

While the evidence is not 100 per cent conclusive, Dr Luke Powles suggests investing in a Sad lamp as a way to manage symptoms.

These plug-in lights work to mimic the sun and are thought to boost levels of serotonin and melanin, delivering short term positive effects.

Plus, they are a "helpful way to banish the winter blues until the days start getting longer again," says Powles. It is recommended that you use these for a duration of is 20 to 40 minutes a day.

While these lamps are expensive, if you think about the savings you'll be making by not grabbing a coffee on your way into the office it'll totally be worth it, and you'll reap the benefits in no time.

To qualify as a Saf lamp, brightness needs to be at least 2,500 lux, and the brighter the light the greater the effectiveness.

Using an alarm clock that wakes you up using artificial light is a great way to start the day as it can effectively reset your internal clock and metabolism, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed.

Dr Jaya Gowrisunkur from the Priory wellbeing centre Harley Street suggested a Lumie alarm clock; and the Lumie bodyclock shine 300 (Lumie, £129) shone big in our review of the best Sad lamps thanks to its therapeutic benefits.

Gowrisunkur noted the importance of a regular wake up time for managing symptoms, meaning that this alarm clock is an important addition in that it will make sure you get into a good, healthy routine. It will also prevent lie-ins and snoozing; known to upset your rhythms.

The real beauty of this, though, is that the sunset feature can also be used at the end of the day to help you wind down, and it can play sounds to help you fall asleep. This is considered a fantastic complement, rather than an alternative, to a lightbox when treating SAD.

Dr Powles suggests that brightening the environment you use to work from home in can work to elevate symptoms, so if you're looking for something that you can place on your desk, consider this Beurer TL 30 ultra portable daylight SAD light (John Lewis & Partners, £47.99).

Simple and easy to set up, it can clip on to different places and the angle can be altered to however you wish. Beurer recommends using this for two hours, making it a great desk accessory while working from home, and it can also be easily transported into the office should you wish.

If you're looking for something that has a shorter usage time, turn to the Lumie Brazil SAD light (Amazon, £149).

While it is more expensive, the treatment time is only 30 minutes thanks to the light being brighter; making it a quick and effective way to manage symptoms.

Get physical

"Research shows that physical activity can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression," says Stephen Buckley from Mind.

Dr Jaya Gowrisunkur from the Priory similarly suggests getting out in natural surrounding, like the local park, lake or just being around trees. This may be in the form or a walk, run or simply spending time in the garden, if you have one.

With the positive effects of exercise aplenty, it might be worth considering a light evening jog after work. If you're new to running, it can feel daunting putting on a fresh pair of trainers for the first time, but our guide to how to do a 5k provides expert advice on everything you need to ace it.

Whether you're just starting out or a keen marathon runner, you need kit that'll keep you warm during the winter months and help you go the extra mile.

The Zome3 women's RX3 medical grade compression tights (Zone3, £75) were highly commended in our review of the best women's running leggings.

The "medical grade compression" aids recovery and makes for a flattering fit, while the material is flexible and has sweat-wicking qualities. There's also a handy zip pocket that keeps your keys safe. Owing to the tightness, our tester did advise sizing up.

The Zone3 RX3 medical grade compression tights (Wiggle, £70.49) were also a big hit in our round-up of best men's winter running gear.

The heavy compression was again praised for aiding recovery, and the thermal design will keep your warm during a run, warm down, and even recovery when back home.

Factoring a run into your day might not be for you. But, Dr Luke Powles advises "regular breaks, and try to go outside during these times, whether for a quick stroll around the block or a longer walk". A lunchtime stroll can have the same benefits as two and a half hours of light treatment, even on a cloudy day.

Doing this in the drizzle might not seem appealing, but it's proven to help, so it's prime time to invest in a new waterproof jacket that'll keep you warm. In our review of the best waterproof jackets for women, Haglofs grym evo jacket (Haglofs, £248) took the top spot.

Made from 100 per cent recycled materials, our tester said that "this is hands down the most comfortable shell jacket we tested", before praising its fit and ability to fight the worst weather. There is a men's version (Haglofs, £248), too – and with reviews like that, you can't go wrong.

Improve sleep quality

When asked how to keep symptoms at bay, Dr Jaya Gowrisunkur advised to "invest in the things that will improve sleep quality" so that you wake up with more energy. This is particularly important since disturbances of sleep have been found to be a key characteristic of Sad.

When it comes to a new set of pillows, something that Gowrisunkur notes as being important, for exceptional support and cooling action, the Simba hybrid pillow (Simba, £99) took the crown in our round-up.

Providing comfort, longevity, value for money and being suitable to all sleepers, it certainly ticks the boxes.

While buying a new mattress may seem extravagant, ensuring you get plenty of sleep will make you feel better rested and ready for the day ahead.

For an instantly comfortable night go for the Emma original mattress (Emma, £329 for a double), which won the IndyBest buy in our guide to the best mattress.

When reviewing it our tester said: "There isn’t a body shape or type of sleeper that it wouldn’t suit, making it a great all-rounder". If that's not enough to persuade you to invest, there's no minimum time frame to request a return, and if you decide it isn't for you, you don't have to repackage it. We are sold.

Meditate

While there are a number of different Sad management techniques – including cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, Dr Gowrisunkur suggests taking up meditation.

Research suggests that meditation increases serotonin levels in the brain, which is also the mechanism of action within some of the drugs used to treat SAD.

If you've never done it before, practising meditation can be a difficult art to get into. But, thankfully in recent years, mindfulness has exploded in popularity. In our guide to the best mindfulness apps, the Calm Android and iOS app (Calm, £28.99/year) was heralded as the top choice.

Just as the name suggests, Calm is a portal for a peace of mind. With so much variety – from calming bedtime stores to easy-to-follow meditations, and even the option to reflect on your mood each day – Calm offers a way for you to unwind and refocus your attention.

Perhaps the best-known meditation app, Headspace, which can be downloaded via Android or iOS (Headpace, £9.99/month), offers a free 10-part "basic" course, which is perfect for beginners.

The sessions come in three, five or 10-minute chunks and are easy to follow. Andy Puddicombe, the narrator and co-founder, will guide you through breath work and body scanning in a calm and easy to understand way. You can then use these exercises within every aspect of your life.

For more information on seasonal affective disorder and the symptoms and treatments available, visit the NHS website

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