IT is that time of year where many people start to feel their mood dipping.

Dubbed “winter depression,” seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common condition which impacts mental health, energy levels and in some cases, quality of life.

As the name suggests, this affects people in a seasonal pattern where symptoms typically improve in spring and summer months but worsen towards the end of autumn into winter.

This year especially, we are set to see more cases due to the fatigue of pandemic restrictions. As we enter Tier Four restrictions across most of central Scotland, we are at a higher risk of developing poorer mental health because we are spending most of our time indoors which when coupled with reduced daylight exposure, has a negative effect on how our body works.

We are born with an in-built body clock, called the circadian rhythm, which works in tandem with natural sunlight. The sun communicates to us when it’s time to wake up, go out to work and go to sleep however when the clocks go back and it gets darker earlier, our circadian rhythm becomes disrupted. When the sun sets, we start to produce a hormone called melatonin which is responsible for sleep.

It is thought that people who suffer from SAD, and indeed in winter, higher levels of melatonin are produced which leads to feelings of sluggishness, fatigue and low energy levels.

We all feel happy when the sun comes out and this is due to the production of serotonin – a hormone that lifts the mood. In winter, the dreich weather reduces the production of this and so contributes to feelings of depression.

It is important that all of us are aware of this condition and we take it seriously because it can be debilitating. The good news however is that there are a few things that can be done to ease the symptoms and reduce the effects of SAD.

Right now what I’m hearing from my patients is that they feel little motivation, low mood and anxiety, irritability and negative thoughts. These have become fairly common emotions across the board and recognising and accepting that it is ok to not feel ok right now is a vital step to seeking support and getting help.

There are a few things that can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

It may feel like there isn’t much control at present but one thing you can do to try and ease anxiety is to create and stick to an achievable routine. Humans thrive on routine so even small changes like establishing a set time for waking up, going to bed, having regulated meal times will make a significant impact to improving mental wellbeing.

As we can see, the sun is a key player in our health so make the effort to get out, whatever the weather, during daylight hours and reap the benefits of the outdoors. If you are working from home then sit by the window, open the curtains to invite the natural light into the house and take that lunch break or cup of coffee out into the garden. If you are feeling couped up indoors, step out of your front door and a simple exercise to try alleviate feelings of overwhelm is to focus on the breath. Breathe in and breathe out and if you can, look up at the sky, perhaps focus on clouds which are expansive. It can quickly help restore calm.

Another easy mindfulness exercise which you can do if you are feeling worried and anxious is to concentrate on your immediate environment and identify five things you can see, four things you can touch or feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Some people find SAD lamps helpful as they can simulate the sunlight and help improve serotonin levels. It is important however to do your research before you buy these, ensuring it’s from a regulated manufacturer and designed specifically to manage SAD.

I cannot prescribe exercise enough! Many of us were motivated to get out in summer for that one hour a day but this enthusiasm may have dwindled. In the absence of gyms, it is more important than ever to reduce the sedentary behaviour. It does not need to be complex as even a 10 minute brisk walk will be enough to release endorphins which are natural anti-depressants.

We all reach for comfort food in winter which tend to be stodgy and carbohydrate heavy foods. Unfortunately, these can make you feel more lethargic so try to balance out the meals, consciously making healthier choices because food can hugely impact how we feel. Also, we are made up of 60 per cent water so ensure that you are drinking at least two litres of water a day to feel less sluggish.

Alcohol consumption has risen across the population this year It is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and whilst it is fine in moderation, going over the recommended 14 units on a regular basis will cause long-term health implications.

Winter months can often make us feel more isolated and with added restrictions, this sense of loneliness will be heightened. As social beings, it is crucial to remain connected. The excitement for Zoom parties and facetime chats may have fizzled, especially as many are spending their working days in front of a screen. I recommend going back to good old phone calls to catch up with friends and remember to check-in on loved ones. When we connect with one another, we spark joy and feel more alive.

Lastly, if you are struggling in any way or finding that you are not coping then please call your GP or 111 if out of hours.

We are open and we are here for you and can help by listening and supporting you, prescribing short term medication or can refer you for counselling/CBT.

We are in this together and we will get through this.