Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment in London & Online

Depression during winter, and lack of motivation and energy that closely follow the changing of seasons, are essential markers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Usually, if you have SAD, you’ll go through periods of low mood during winter and feel more uplifted when the season ends. This is why seasonal affective disorder is often referred to as winter blues or winter depression.

SAD and its symptoms can drastically reduce your quality of life. Fortunately, treatment for seasonal affective disorder has proven to be effective. Light therapy or antidepressants can be effective for SAD. However, psychotherapy can help you address unhelpful, negative thinking and behaviours surrounding SAD while looking at deeper underlying issues without any side effects.

Contact us for a free 15-minute consultation if you’d like to find a therapist who will help you understand and change your emotional patterns.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment in London

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Have you ever noticed that your mood goes down as the dark winter months are approaching? Did you experience low energy, sadness, or lack of motivation during the long rainy days of autumn? This is how seasonal affective disorder typically looks. 

SAD was formally described by Norman Rosenthal, a South African psychiatrist, in his book “Winter Blues” in 1993, bringing the topic to a broader audience. 

Most people with SAD experience periods of winter depression. However, SAD can also be about summertime sadness or bouts of very positive mood. SAD is not caused by external seasonal events such as seasonal unemployment or migration. Still, these events can make you feel even worse and keep the problem going.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

  • Feeling sleepy during the day
  • Hypersomnia (sleeping more than usual, without feeling rested)
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tense, stressed or anxious
  • Sadness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Diminished interest in sex (low libido)
  • Gaining weight, craving food rich in carbohydrates
  • Emotional changes related to the change of the seasons (e.g., leaves falling)
  • Avoiding other people
  • No longer doing things that brought you pleasure
  • Inability to experience pleasure as before (e.g. socialising and hobbies might lose their allure during the seasonal mood episode)
  • Reduced productiveness (while before you were able to get on with the day’s work without problems, now it feels challenging to keep up even with a lower workload)

How is SAD Maintained?

Seasonally

Most people with SAD start feeling their mood decline as autumn sets in and there’s less sunlight. Symptoms like sleepiness and lack of motivation slowly increase, and with the cold and dark winter months, SAD reaches its peak. When spring arrives, the situation improves. You might feel inclined to brush the issue aside and enjoy the warmer and brighter summer months. 

The next season of bad weather will inevitably come, and the SAD will likely return. 

This is how the (seasonal) vicious circle of SAD is maintained.

To break out of this circle, specific therapeutic work looking at how you deal with your SAD and its underlying psychological causes is necessary, which is best done with the help of a mental health professional.

In everyday life

A vicious cycle also characterises the SAD episodes. For instance, as you experience seasonal depression during the cold winter months, you’re more likely to cease doing what you usually do. You might limit your activities and spend a lot of time alone, indoors, sleeping, watching TV, and surfing the internet. This is what depression often leads us to do. 

The days might seem like they “merge” with one another and feel monotonous. But by limiting your activities and reducing social contact, you are invertedly perpetuating the vicious circle of SAD and depression. You’re less likely to do things that might improve your mood (e.g. exercising, meeting friends, learning new things).

While it might be tempting to wait for the darker seasons to pass, working with a qualified therapist may help you break the cycle of SAD and reduce the chances it will return in the future.

Seasonal Affective Disorder vicious cycle

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Although we don’t know all the causes of SAD, there are two broad sets of factors triggering this issue:

Your biological clock – Circadian rhythm & Melatonin

Your circadian rhythm is a neurobiological process that determines the sleep-wake cycle. It does so by controlling numerous processes in the body, such as melatonin synthesis. It is largely determined by light, acting as a cue for “wake-up” processes in the body. 

We receive less sunlight during the dark winter months, affecting our circadian rhythm. Most people notice some changes during the winter months, but nothing too drastic. If you struggle with SAD, you are likely more sensitive to changes in the amount of sunlight. Melatonin, the “sleep hormone”, is essential to this process. Sunlight acts as a STOP signal for melatonin production, making us feel somewhat sleepier during the cold and dark winter months. 

The above is why light therapy can be effective for SAD by replacing the sunlight your body needs to truly “wake up”. However, light therapy for SAD cannot replace psychotherapy for seasonal affective disorder, as it won’t address SAD’s underlying psychological factors. The two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, much like medications and psychotherapy. 

Genetics

Research suggests that genetic factors play an important role in SAD [2]. Moreover, it has been found that people with a family history of SAD or depression are more likely to experience SAD themselves [3]

When Should I Get Counselling for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The right time to seek professional help is usually when you start having difficulties in your daily functioning, for example:

Cognitive

  • Brain Fog: Difficulties with concentration and prolonged focus.
    SAD is similar to depression as it affects your cognitive performance and efficiency. 
  • Negative thoughts.
    Similarly to depression, difficult, unhelpful thoughts might show up in your mind, like: “My life is meaningless.”, “I feel bad even though everything’s as it was before”. I am weak and don’t deserve any compassion.” or “This is how I am, and I cannot change it. I’ll be like this forever.”
  • Difficulties managing negative thinking and worries.
    If you usually can discard negative thoughts like: “I’m a bad person.” or “No one loves me.” during episodes of SAD, you might find it much harder.

    The same is true for worries, such as: “Something bad is going to happen.”, “What will their think of me?”, “Others must think I’m stupid.”. These thoughts and worries might start seeming more truthful and negatively affect your emotions. 

Emotional

  • Sadness.
    You often feel down due to the negative thoughts mentioned above. Sometimes you may feel low for no apparent reason.
  • It’s harder to enjoy things
    During the SAD episodes, you’ll find it hard to enjoy things you enjoyed before. For instance, that book you found so interesting a few months ago can become utterly meaningless to you during the grim months of the winter.
  • Increased stress and anxiety.
    You may find yourself pushing through periods of SAD (e.g., working as hard as usual, doing what you usually do at the same pace) as if nothing’s changed. This can increase stress, worries and anxiety during episodes of SAD.
  • Increased frustration.
    SAD can make you more irritable and feel “on edge”. Potentially frustrating things you tolerated well before (e.g., the daily commute; unexpected workload; deadlines) can suddenly become triggering.

Behavioural

  • Lack of activity.
    Loss of motivation is one of the main symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. You may find it hard to motivate yourself to go outside and do everything you usually do (e.g., run errands, walk your dog, take a walk with your friend). Exercise may now look like an impossible feat, even though you can keep up with your workout schedule for most of the year. 
  • Diet changes and weight gain.
    You may become more indifferent towards your diet and what you eat. Due to sadness and thoughts of meaninglessness, keeping a healthy diet may stop being so important. For instance, you may start frequently eating food and snacks.
  • Habit changes.
    Let’s say you started learning how to play the guitar, and you’ve been doing that for 6 months. Then the main period of SAD comes, and you feel demotivated to play. You may even forget about the practice habit you acquired, which is also a sign of SAD.

Does Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder Work?

Psychotherapy for SAD is effective and likely to provide significant improvements after 12 therapy sessions (CBT) [4]. Studies suggested that a considerable proportion of people with seasonal affective disorder benefit more from psychotherapy for SAD as opposed to light therapy alone. 

What’s the Best Therapy Approach for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Various therapy approaches can help with SAD. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for SAD was found effective in alleviating seasonal affective disorder symptoms in 10-12 sessions.

What does CBT therapy for SAD include?

Behavioural Activation (BA).

BA is about monitoring your daily activities and thinking about ways in which you can change your behavioural patterns and introduce new activities. Your therapist using BA will help you identify behavioural goals and suggest ways to stay on track. 

This has many benefits. For instance, introducing more exercise in your schedule with the help of your therapist will improve your overall mood. Behavioural Activation will highlight unhelpful activities currently in your schedule, which, with the help of your therapists, can be replaced with more helpful ones. For example, replacing lying in bed for hours with preparing a healthy breakfast or phoning a friend will further bring positive changes. Any issues in keeping up with your schedule will be addressed, adjusting your plans. Behavioural Activation is one decisive way of breaking the vicious cycle of SAD. 

Stress management & Emotion Regulation

Stress management can be very beneficial in addressing a lack of tolerance to frustration or difficulties managing other emotions, which are often seen in SAD. To do this, your therapist will help you learn various techniques, including Progressive Muscle Relaxation, mindful breathing, mindfulness meditation, introducing imagery exercises (e.g., safe place) and more. Once learned, you can use these techniques to reduce the levels of stress you are experiencing in theme moment, even outside of your therapy sessions.

Cognitive Restructuring

SAD can bring up many difficult thoughts and beliefs about yourself, others, and the world increasing your low mood and helping maintain your SAD. 

You may notice thoughts like: “there’s something wrong with me” or “I’m weird and different from others”.

Cognitive Restructuring is about addressing these unhelpful thoughts and beliefs in various ways to prevent new episodes of SAD and ultimately break out of the SAD vicious cycle.

What are the Benefits of Therapy for SAD?

  • Less fatigue 
  • Improved motivation 
  • Less stress and anxiety 
  • Improved self-confidence 
  • Better understanding of the nature of SAD and its patterns
  • Improved frustration tolerance 
  • Improved ability to manage difficult emotions
  • Improved mood
  • Improved relationships
  • Greater ability to prevent SAD as the seasons change
  • Greater quality of life

How Long Does Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder Last?

Typically, people start seeing improvements after 10-12 sessions of therapy for SAD [4]. Because of the seasonal nature of the issue, it can be helpful to preemptively schedule therapy sessions and make a treatment plan before the onset of the new episode. This way, the treatment can be even more effective. 

SAD is often coupled with other issues, some more severe than others. Seasonal affective disorder itself can involve intense periods of depression which may include feeling suicidal. In these cases, the treatment of SAD is likely to last longer than 10 sessions and require the involvement of various professionals. 

Disclaimer: We’re not an emergency service. If you’re feeling suicidal and risk is imminent, call the Samaritans (116 123) hotline. Also, consider discussing this with your GP as soon as possible.

Does Online Therapy Work for SAD?

Online therapy has been proven effective by several studies [6]. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be successfully treated with online therapy. Online therapy or counselling can be an excellent option if you’re feeling low in motivation, have difficulties travelling, or simply want to see your therapist from the comfort of your home or office.

Tips to Get You Started Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

You can start working on SAD even before you start therapy with a mental health professional:

 

  • Get physically active – if you’re struggling with SAD, you might sleep too much without feeling rested. Being physically active can improve your overall functioning, and it will also enhance the quality of your sleep.
  • Get as much sunlight as possible – even in periods of bad weather, there are some beautiful sunny days that you should make the most of, by spending time outdoors and near nature.
  • Eat healthily – avoid eating too much sugary or processed food. Make sure you’re not over or undereating. Generally, try to eat at least a few hours before going to bed, 
  • Do some Behavioural Activation on your own (see image below) by watching your overall activity levels. The rule of thumb here is that what you do (or don’t) can significantly impact your mood. To do this, start by keeping track of your daily schedule with a diary for a week. Once you get a complete picture of your typical week, it’s time to make some changes. Here are some tips. Try not to spend too much time in the house and bedroom. Replace lonely activities with more social ones. Try to re-introduce in the schedule activities that would generally give you pleasure (e.g., hobbies). Aim to slot in at least one pleasurable activity per day. On days when you feel really fatigued, avoid pushing yourself too much. 
  • Talk to your friends and loved ones about what you’re experiencing – there’s nothing worse than keeping all your problems to yourself.

 

SAD - Activity Diary

Our Therapists Specialised in Seasonal Affective Disorder

All of our therapists are qualified psychologists, psychotherapists or counsellors registered with several professional bodies. These include the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the British Psychological Society (BPS), as well as BACP, UKCP and BABCP.

Dr. Raffaello Antonino

Clinical Director, Counselling Psychologist

Dr. Sheetal Dandgey

Clinical Director, Counselling Psychologist

Dr. Amy Smith

Clinical Director, Counselling Psychologist

Dr. Anna Hovris

Counselling Psychologist

Dr Bertha Rogers

Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Alana Whitlock

Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Yasmeen Jaina

Counselling Psychologist

Panos Vythoulkas

Senior Clinical Psychologist

Tatum Aspeling

Clinical Psychologist

Dr Gail Freedman

Counselling Psychologist

Ben Dustin

Psychotherapist

Dr Sidra Chaudhry

Counselling Psychologist

Maryam Keshavarz

Psychotherapist

Stacie Hill

CBT Psychotherapist

Dr Joanne Warren

Clinical Psychologist

Dr Lydia Garmon-Jones

Clinical Psychologist

Dr Nicholas Sarantakis

Counselling Psychologist

Anita Sommers

Psychotherapist

Dr Anna Olszewska

Clinical Psychologist

Dr Didem Altay

Counselling Psychologist

Imogen Hg-Johnson

Psychotherapist

Anna Orlowska

Counselling Psychologist

Dr Pablo Sabucedo

Clinical Psychologist

Dr Joanne Livingston

Counselling Psychologist

Dr Daren Lee

Counselling Psychologist

Dr Soha Daru

Counselling Psychologist

Lisa Crossman

Psychotherapeutic Counsellor

Joanne Videtsky

Clinical Psychologist

Sharyn Prince

Integrative Therapist

Dr Anna Tavoulari

Counselling Psychologist

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The Therapist l had was absolutely brilliant with me. He had patience with me and bit by bit l gained a little of confidence to try and get out and go on the buses.

He deserves an award and if l could l would in the beginning l thought how is this person going to get me back on public transport but he did he gave me the confidence l lost and now have back.

I will never forget him and what he has done for me. I wish him nothing but the best in his life.

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My therapist was excellent. I highly recommend her and I am truly thankful for my sessions, I left feeling confident and positive.

The mental tools, systems and approaches I have been able to develop with her and use in my life have been hugely beneficial.

Thank you to all at Therapy Central.

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The Therapist really gave me the space to talk and express my feelings and fears in a very comforting environment.

She was there not only to listen, but challenge my thinking, guide me during the uncertainty I was experiencing and give me useful and practical tips to improve my mental health and wellbeing. Highly recommended!

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Working with the therapist has been a life-changing experience. Each session has been invaluable, helping me gain a good understanding of CBT methodology enabling me to incorporate ways to combat stress and anxiety in my daily life.

The Therapist shows that she really cares and has the ability to make you feel calm whilst discussing any personal issue. 

(Richard)

Fees & Insurances

Therapy, Counselling and CBT sessions are 50 minutes long and are usually held at regular weekly time slots.

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£75 -£95
Psychological Therapy/
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£105 - £120
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All of our therapists are registered with several insurance providers, such as AXA PPP, Simplyhealth, Aviva, Cigna (UK/US), Vitality and WPA. If you wish to use your personal or employee private healthcare insurance to cover your sessions, please highlight this in your contact form below.

Get Started With Seasonal Affective Disorder Therapy in London & Online

SAD can be a debilitating issue affecting our ability to live a fulfilling life. While waiting for the end of the winter season may be tempting, doing so will keep the SAD going in the long run, and the periods of bad mood and fatigue will likely come back.

If you want to find an effective way to address your SAD and improve your psychological and emotional functioning, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free 15-minute consultation. We’ll discuss your struggles and find a way to tackle them together. You’ll be able to work with a trained mental health professional who will tailor their approach to your unique needs and circumstances with compassion and understanding.

Get professional help and seasonal affective disorder therapy in London & Online today. You can also get in touch via email at info@therapy-central.com or call us at (+44) 020 348 82797.

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    What happens after I make an enquiry?

    After receiving your enquiry we’ll contact you to organise a FREE phone consultation. You will be able to tell us more about your specific circumstances and needs and ask any questions you have. Then, if you want to proceed with therapy or counselling, we’ll match you with the therapist(s) with the best expertise to help you with your challenges and send you a list of their available appointment slots. If you’re satisfied with one of these, we can then go ahead and book your first appointment. You can also request to work with a specific practitioner and, depending on availability we’ll try accomodate this.

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    Your first session will likely be different than future appointments. You and your therapist will get to know each other and will begin to build a working alliance. It will be a chance to have the confidential space to express your circumstances, feelings and thoughts and being listened to with depth, attention, empathy and without judgement . Your therapist will likely ask you more about your reasons for seeking therapy, and any symptoms you’re experiencing. You may also be asked questions about your past and the history of your issues, as well as how they currently impact your life in the present. Finally, your first session may be a powerful place to discuss what you would like to achieve with therapy and agree on the length, methods and approaches of treatment.

    Is online therapy effective?

    If you choose online over in-person therapy rest assured that this has been proven to be just as effective as regular face to face therapy, and in some cases even more effective. In addition, choosing online therapy brings additional benefits, for example avoiding longer waiting times, greater flexibility with appointments and you won’t need to travel to our practice. You can enjoy online therapy from the comfort of your home.

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    Therapy/counselling sessions last 50 minutes and are held at regular weekly time slots. On occasions we are able to allow some flexibility. This can be discussed with your therapist.

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    We offer low-cost rates at £60 per session to people with a low income, unemployed or students. Please highlight in your enquiry if you would like a concession rate and how you qualify for this. Depending on the availability of our therapists, we’ll do our best to accommodate your request.

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    We have a 48 hours no-fee cancellation policy. However you will be charged for sessions missed without giving the full notice.

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    Our Practice in Central London

    Our comfortable and confidential therapy rooms are conveniently located 3 min walk from Oxford Circus station, in Central London (see map below). Change starts with Talking!

    References

    [1] NHS (2022). Overview: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/overview/

    [2] Sher, L., Goldman, D., Ozaki, N., & Rosenthal, N. E. (1999). The role of genetic factors in the etiology of seasonal affective disorder and seasonality. Journal of affective disorders, 53(3), 203-210.

    [3] Ho, K.W.D., Han, S., Nielsen, J.V. et al. Genome-wide association study of seasonal affective disorder. Transl Psychiatry 8, 190 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-018-0246-z

    [4] Meesters, Y., & Gordijn, M. C. M. (2016). Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: Current insights and treatment options. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 9, Article 317-327. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S114906

    [5] Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.[6] Ahern, E., Kinsella, S., & Semkovska, M. (2018). Clinical efficacy and economic evaluation of online cognitive behavioral therapy for major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Expert review of pharmacoeconomics & outcomes research, 18(1), 25-41.

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