What is SAD and are you affected?

Women walking in the daylight

Seasonal affective disorder can make us struggle during the winter months. The good news is there are things you can do to reduce the impact of SAD – any many of them will reduce your cancer risk, too.

At certain times of the year, millions of us suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The lack of light, dark mornings and evenings, plus overcast, gloomy weather affect as many as 2 million Brits, according to the NHS.

Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are:

  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty, angry, anxious or hopeless
  • Sleeping too much and having difficulty waking up
  • Sleeping too little or waking up a lot
  • Changes in your appetite, such as overeating or craving carbs

If you’re struggling to cope with your symptoms andd think you may have SAD, you should always see your GP or another medical professional. However, if you’re looking for small changes you can make to improve your mood, read on …

Get outside during daylight

SAD is linked to less exposure to the sun when the days are shorter, so taking the opportunity to go outside and absorb as much sunlight (as the UK weather allows!) is important in boosting your mood. This is particularly important if you work indoors a lot.

Stay social and be mindful

Seeing friends and family won’t protect you against cancer, but it’s important to speak to and spend time with the people you love, especially if you’re feeling down. Whether you meet a friend for coffee or go on a walk with a loved one, being social will help boost your mood and it’s a great opportunity to talk about how you’re feeling.

In addition, you could do something fun and pick up a new hobby, like knitting or wall climbing!

Keep active

Keeping active is important. Not only is it one of our Cancer Prevention Recommendations because it can lower your risk of obesity and cancer, but it can also improve your mood. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (like walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (like football) each week – but there are lots of ways you can get outside and get active, such as cycling, gardening or joining a local sports team.

Eat well

Winter vegetable minestrone

Eating a healthy diet is important for us to function properly. We recommend that you make wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and pulses (beans and lentils) a major part of your daily diet. You should aim to get your 5 A DAY (or you could even try to eat 30 plant-based foods a week instead!)

Research supports this – one study found that those who increased the amount of fruit and vegetables in their diet were more likely to report feeling much happier, while another found that adults who typically had a low vegetable intake reported increased levels of happiness after eating enough vegetables for 8 weeks. If you’re interested in the most important nutrients for a healthy brain, this blog by Prof Clare Collins is a good place to start.

Avoid alcohol or limit your consumption

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it can affect our thoughts and feelings. When you’re already feeling low, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. Reducing your alcohol consumption will also help you reduce your risk of 6 types of cancer.

> Top tips for reducing alcohol
> Check out our healthy recipes
> Tips to get more active