Dealing with being SAD this Christmas: Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s that time of the year again! Streets are festooned with twinkling lights, the radio plays The Pogues and Mariah on a loop, and children plan their lists for Santa. For many, Christmas is synonymous with joy, laughter and creating treasured memories with loved ones. However, some find themselves wrapped in an invisible blanket of gloom at Christmas, unable to shake off the overwhelming sadness. This isn’t just the usual holiday blues; it’s something deeper, more persistent. Enter Seasonal Affective Disorder, often fittingly abbreviated as SAD.

In this illuminating blog, we will explore the frosty landscape of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the connection between the holiday season and mental health and, most importantly, effective ways to light up your spirits amidst the winter gloom.


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Christmas Tree

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – is a mood disorder characterised by feelings of depression that arise seasonally. SAD symptoms most commonly show up during the late Autumn and persist through the winter months, although there is also a rarer form of summer-induced SAD.

While the precise cause of SAD remains under study, several factors are believed to play a role:

Reduced sunlight

Shorter days and gloomier skies can lead to a decrease in serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation. This drop in serotonin can trigger seasonal depression in some people.

Melatonin levels

The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. This disruption can lead to increased melatonin production, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep, which can lead to lethargy and mood disturbances.

Vitamin D deficiency

Sunlight is a primary source of Vitamin D for our bodies. Reduced exposure to natural light during winter can lower Vitamin D levels, which has been linked to clinical depression in some studies.

Christmas Cookies

Common SAD symptoms

While Christmas songs sing about the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, the winter months can be quite the opposite for those grappling with SAD. SAD symptoms often vary from person to person, but they can be incredibly pervasive and majorly impact mental health.

Some of the most common SAD symptoms include:

  • Persistent low mood or feelings of depression


  • No interest in things you usually enjoy


  • Persistent fatigue or low-energy


  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as oversleeping or difficulty falling or staying asleep


  • Changes in appetite, especially craving for foods high in carbs


  • Weight gain


  • Feeling agitated or sluggish


  • Difficulty concentrating


  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty for no real reason

Gift giving

The impact of SAD during Christmas

SAD symptoms can be further intensified during the holiday season when societal pressure exists to be in a celebratory mood. For example, feelings of isolation and depression can be exacerbated by the bombardment of happy scenes of loved ones together in films and adverts. Similarly, the logistical stresses of gift-buying, planning events and family events can exacerbate the emotional toll on those suffering from seasonal depression.

Impact on families

For someone with SAD, family parties and engagements can be daunting events. The need to put on a brave face to mask their true feelings to avoid dampening the festive mood can be mentally exhausting. Misunderstandings can also arise if family members are unaware or dismissive of SAD. They may feel like the person is just a party pooper or not trying to get into the party spirit.

Impact on individuals

On an individual level, those with SAD can also experience intensified self-critical thoughts at Christmas time. The festive season often encourages us to reflect on the year gone by, but this can become a source of regret, anxiety or sadness for some. The shorter days and colder weather can also make it more challenging to engage in enjoyable activities that typically provide relief from mental health issues, like outdoor exercise or social outings. This combination of impacts can make coping with SAD during the holidays a daily struggle.

Strategies for coping with SAD at Christmas

The prospect of SAD at Christmas doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a month of despair. There are many actionable strategies for coping with SAD during the holidays which can help mitigate its effects:

Get as much natural light as possible

One of the primary treatments for SAD is light therapy, which uses a light box to simulate sunlight exposure. However, it would help to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Whether it’s a short walk in the morning or simply sitting by a window with a cup of tea, frequent exposure to daylight can significantly improve your mood.

Try to stay active

Physical activity is an effective mood booster. A light jog, some indoor sport or a quick home workout can all help manage and reduce SAD symptoms.


It’s essential to let your loved ones know about your condition and how well you are/aren’t coping with SAD. This will help them understand what you’re going through so they can offer their support during the holiday season.

Limit alcohol and sugar intake

While Christmas is often a time of indulgence, alcohol and sugar can have depressive effects on mood. The crash from sugar, alcohol hangover or effects on weight and appearance can also trigger mental health and mood issues, so moderation is key.

Seek professional help

For those with severe SAD symptoms or who find themselves turning to substances to cope, seeking professional help is imperative. UKAT offers a bespoke, comprehensive approach to mental health, addiction and wellness, ensuring that individuals don’t just combat the symptoms of SAD but address its underlying causes. UKAT can help you get through the tumultuous holiday season with a holistic approach that integrates therapy, tailored support, and a safe, conducive environment. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Christmas dinner

Final thoughts

While the shimmering lights and jingle-filled air make the Christmas season magical for many, it’s crucial to remember that not everyone dances to the same festive tune. For those wrestling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the winter months can cast long, chilly shadows over their emotional well-being. However, recognising SAD symptoms, adopting effective coping strategies and reaching out for professional treatment can all be stepping stones to reclaiming joy during the holidays.

Understanding that you’re not alone in your struggles is crucial. Reach out to UKAT today if you need support with Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD doesn’t need to be the Grinch that steals your Christmas.

(Click here to see works cited)