Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder: Insights from Dr Tom MacLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health
As the winter months unfold, it’s not uncommon for many to grapple with more than just the chill
in the air. Dr Tom MacLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health, shares an insight on the intricacies of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and provide guidance on how to navigate the winter blues.
Understanding the Depths of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Distinguishing itself from the transient “winter blues” SAD is a more profound and enduring condition. Its hallmark symptoms, including persistent low mood, fatigue and disruptions in appetite and sleep patterns, become pronounced during the darker and colder months. Recognising these signs, particularly difficulties in concentration, is crucial in identifying SAD.
Unpacking the Factors at Play
Geographical considerations, such as residing in regions with prolonged cold spells and higher northern latitudes play a role in SAD. Individual predispositions, like a family history of SAD or a prior history of depression, contribute to susceptibility. Notably, women are more prone to SAD, and those sensitive to temperature fluctuations face an increased risk.
My Top 10 Tips for Reducing SAD:
Reducing the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) involves incorporating lifestyle
adjustments and strategic interventions. As a consultant psychiatrist, I recommend the following
strategies to mitigate the impact of SAD:
1) Increase Exposure to Natural Light:
• Spend more time outdoors during daylight hours, especially in the morning.
• Arrange your workspace or home to maximise exposure to sunlight.
• Consider using light therapy lamps that mimic natural sunlight, particularly during the
2) Maintain a Consistent Schedule:
• Establish and adhere to a regular daily routine, including consistent sleep and wake
times.• Ensure exposure to natural light in the morning to regulate your circadian rhythm.
3) Exercise Regularly:
• Engage in regular physical activity, as exercise has been shown to boost mood and
reduce symptoms of depression.
• Choose outdoor activities to combine the benefits of exercise with exposure to natural
4) Prioritise a Healthy Diet:
• Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
• Consider foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, which may have mood-
5) Stay Socially Connected:
• Maintain social interactions with friends and family to foster a sense of connection.
• Participate in group activities or join clubs to stay engaged with others.
6) Manage Stress:
• Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga.
• Identify and address sources of stress in your life to prevent exacerbation of SAD
7) Consider Professional Support:
• If you have a history of depression or are experiencing symptoms of SAD, consult with a
mental health professional.
• Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown to be effective in treating SAD.
8) Use Light Therapy:
• Light therapy, or phototherapy, involves exposure to a bright light that mimics natural
sunlight. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with SAD.
• Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate duration and intensity of
light therapy for your specific needs.
9) Plan Winter Activities:
• Embrace winter activities that bring joy and pleasure such as skiing, ice skating, or enjoying
• Plan social events or outings to break the monotony of the darker season.
10) Consider Vitamin D Supplements:
• In consultation with a healthcare provider, consider taking vitamin D supplements, as sunlight
exposure, the primary source of vitamin D, may be limited during the winter.