28 Nov 2021

How to cope if dark evenings make you sad

How to cope if dark evenings make you sad

The scandinavian concept of Hygge can counteract Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It’s that time of year, the approach of darker nights and shorter days. Some people's moods can take a hit, for some it is serious and is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression related to changes in seasons — It begins and ends at about the same times every year. Most people with SAD start to feel symptoms in the autumn, then all through the winter, sapping energy and making them feel moody.

Around 2-10% of Europeans and North Americans are affected, with 75% being women, although both genders are affected equally in older age. SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults. 60% of people who suffer from SAD get it to varying degrees every winter, an awful lot of months feeling gloomy.

As there is crossover between SAD and other depression, it is always wise to discuss any feelings of low mood with your GP.

Possible causes of SAD
Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in autumn and winter may cause winter-onset SAD.
Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop and trigger depression.
Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Family history, people with SAD may be more likely to have relatives with forms of depression.
Having major depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms may worsen seasonally.
Living far from the equator. SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator.

Phototherapy: People with SAD need much more light to function normally than others do. The main treatment is bright light. It is effective in up to 85% of people. The user sits in front of a lightbox so that bright light enters the eyes. Light treatment has to be used every day in winter. It usually takes three to four days to work and the effect wears off if it is not used for three to four days.

Treatment should start in early autumn before symptoms start, and continue until spring. It can be used on dark days in summer. The worst time is inevitably midwinter, but a wet June can sometimes hit hard.
If you cannot access light therapy, make your days as bright as possible – work near a window, put lamps on, get outdoors.

Beware: people with macular degeneration, retinal disease or photosensitive skin conditions or medications should not use light therapy. Ask your doctor. See

Drug treatments
Drug treatments can be in used in combination with light therapy, or used alone, useful if light therapy is not working. See a GP.

Retrain your mind
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) allows people to talk about the impact of SAD and can assist them to make positive, helpful changes to their winter daily routines.
It may help them to feel better about the fact that they need to adapt to winter rather than attempt to carry on regardless. They may begin to feel less guilty or frustrated if things are not the same as they are at other times of the year.

Embrace Hygge
Learn Hygge - pronounced hooga - from Scandinavian countries where they barely see daylight for weeks. SAD is therefore a significant problem, but they tackle this through embracing Hygge. In essence, it means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with family or friends. Sometimes rather than resisting its easier to go with the flow, go with the winter, the lights, fires, wrapping up warm, dinner with friends.

Dr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist and RTÉ Operation Transformation expert. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087-1302899 or contact him on Facebook.

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