Daylight savings making you sad? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Image of author, Naomi Gluck

By Naomi Gluck, Mental Health PHE

Other than giving us one more hour of sleep on the night it ends, Daylight Savings can be seen in a negative light – pun intended. In particular, the fact that it begins to get dark at 4:30 p.m. can have many negative impacts on our mental health and wellbeing. All of us know the feeling of dreariness and tiredness that comes from looking outside and seeing darkness, even though your day might not be even close to being over. It can affect your routines, because you may feel less inclined to leave indoor spaces and not go places like friends’ houses or the gym. It can also make you feel more tired a lot earlier than usual.

But in certain cases, darkness can give way to a disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a subset of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that comes or goes with the seasons”. It is typically linked to winter. These periods of depression resemble normal depressive episodes, which can include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and a lack of motivation. If you think that you or a friend might have SAD, it would be a good idea to seek out professional help since it is a clinical condition that could benefit from professional help.

 For those of us who might not be experiencing SAD but are still negatively impacted by the changes that winter brings, here are some tips for how to make yourself feel better during winter:

1.     Try to get outside when you can – when it’s not too cold or dark yet! This will help you soak in some Vitamin D (even if it’s cold), which is linked to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. (NIMH)

2.     Fool your body into thinking it’s light outside – there are many “SAD Lights” on the market that emit light that can help you feel better. This can help with the problems that come Daylight Savings. Although these lamps can be a bit pricey, there is a strong evidence base that the light therapy from these SAD Lamps can help reduce the symptoms of SAD, so they might be a good investment to make if you have the means to. (Review: light therapy is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, Evidence-Based Mental Health 2006; 9:21.)

3.     Embrace the Danish concept of Hygge, which is characterized as a feeling of coziness. According to Psychology Today, “hygge relates to a feeling of being cared for and protected, not only from the Nordic winters, but also from the cold harshness of life generally.” Although the cold, dark months can be upsetting, they also bring an opportunity to make your indoor spaces feel as cozy as possible by filling them with candles, warm beverages and your loved ones.

Even though it’s dark, I hope everyone stays warm and cozy this season!