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If you’re immigrating to a cold country from a warm one, you need to guard against Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), SAD is a type of depression that’s related to the change in seasons and usually starts in the autumn and continues into the winter, often through to the early summer. Some people call in the “winter blues”, but surprisingly it can also be linked to the arrival of summer. In this blog, we will focus on winter SAD, which is the most common.

Seasonal Affective Disorder tips for expats

Symptoms of autumn and winter SAD

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of winter SAD include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

Reasons for SAD

Winter SAD is often linked to the changes in your biological clock (circadian rhythm), which occur with a decrease in sunlight. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin the brain chemical responsible for feeling happy, which can trigger depression.

Tips to help reduce SAD

If your SAD symptoms are severe, we recommend you see your doctor for medical treatment, but people with mild SAD find they can help control their symptoms from getting to severe by following these tips:

  • Go outside and exercise: Even if the day is dark and cold, getting out and being physical can make a huge difference to your mood. If the day is bright, try and take a walk or sit on a bench to enjoy the sunlight.
  • Make your environment brighter: Open your blinds and curtains, trim surrounding tree branches that may block your access to light and try and sit closer to bright windows. You may even want to invest in light therapy or phototherapy where you sit in front of a lightbox which emits simulated sunlight. Even keeping your lights on longer in the day can help brighten your environment.
  • Socialise more: Many people say the secret to fighting SAD is to be as active and as social as possible. Surround yourself with activities and friends and resist the temptation to just “veg out” at home where it’s warm.
  • Get organised: Staying on top of your tasks is a great mood booster and can help revive those down in the dump feelings that can start to build. While it won’t affect the symptoms of SAD, by planning regular activities into your daily schedule, you can use your timetable to help keep you busy and avoid the onset of SAD.

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