A rainy window

SAD: “Will working from home during autumn make my seasonal affective disorder worse?”

Posted by for Life

As autumn approaches and the days get shorter, Stylist’s Lauren Geall considers whether working from home will make her seasonal affective disorder (SAD) worse – and how we can look after our mental health in the meantime.

After a warm and sunny beginning to September, autumn has officially arrived. 

I’m definitely not the only person who felt the need to crack out their roll neck jumpers and thick socks at the weekend – in true 2020 style, the weather seems to have gone from one extreme to another. 

The nights are getting noticeably darker, too. The long, drawn-out evenings I’d got used to enjoying while working from home in the summer are slowly disappearing, replaced with dark, cosy evenings on the sofa. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all there’s definitely no shortage of new things to watch on TV at this time of year – I’m becoming increasingly nervous about the impact these autumnal changes might have on my mental health as we head into the winter months. 

You see, the weather has always had a big impact on my mood. I’m used to feeling a little tired and lethargic during the winter months – waking up to a pitch black sky outside is no one’s ideal situation. But over the years, I’ve learned how to tackle these signs of what I now know is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Alongside enjoying an engaging podcast and picking up a nice coffee or pastry to help me wake up on my commute, I’ll try and fill the winter months with cosy evenings with my boyfriend or drinks and dinners with friends. At the very least, getting out and about is key.

During the pandemic, getting out and about hasn’t always been easy – and with the weather getting worse, any motivation I did have to head outside and go on my daily walk is seriously dwindling. And while in the pre-pandemic world I might be forced to throw on my coat and complete the wet and windy walk to the train station, working from home has eradicated the need for me to step outside on dreary days, a habit which isn’t exactly helpful for my mental health.

I know I’m not the only one worrying about what this change in the weather might mean. Stylist’s fitness writer Chloe Gray says she’s afraid of the potential impact working from home might have on her mood as we move into the winter months – especially after the lack of excitement we’ve had this summer.

“During lockdown, the sun and my daily walks have kept me feeling surprisingly upbeat about the fact that I have to exercise, work, eat and sleep in the same building, but as the days are getting more and more dreary, I’m concerned about my mental health,” she says. “I’m now less inclined to get out for my 5:30 PM fresh air every day and my room is getting darker, colder and less inspiring. That’s pretty gross in itself, but coupled with the fact that I deal with SAD, I’m even more worried about what sitting inside and watching the world getting more and more miserable from my window will do for me.”

A rainy window
The darker, drearier weather is going to make getting outside while working from home even more important.

She continues: “My usual tactics to combat winter depression involve being out and being sociable, but alas… no commute means no being forced outside (and I’m very good at persuading myself that I belong inside in the warm and dry than throwing on my wellies and doing a loop of the block in the rain). Not being in central London around my friends also means no spontaneous dinners or drinks after work. And, more long term, no real summer of holidays and long pub afternoons and weekends lounging with family just feels like I have experienced no high this summer, meaning that the low of winter will likely feel even lower than usual.”

Although some of people have now returned to the office, for those of us who are still working from home, and will likely continue to do so throughout the darker months, it’s clear that keeping on top of our mental health and working to alleviate the symptoms of SAD could become even more important than usual.

We all know how easy it is to go into hibernation mode and avoid out-of-the-house activities during the winter period, so at a time when our social lives are less busy than usual, paying attention to how much time we’re spending inside (and the effect that has on our mood) is going to be crucial. 

Ensuring that you continue to go for regular walks (even when the idea is less than appealing), keep up with exercise and eat healthy foods as well as keep in touch with friends and family and reach out for support when you need it are all great ways to take care of your mental health and ease any SAD symptoms as we move into the darker months. 

For now, paying attention to our mental health and talking about how we’re feeling with those around us is a great way to mitigate the transition from summer to autumn. Although the weather changing may be worrying to those of us who deal with SAD, it’s important to remember that we’re not alone.

So as Storm Francis continues to wreak havoc outside my window today, I’ll be doing my best to enjoy this chance to cosy up and enjoy some of the at-home activities I didn’t have time for before the pandemic. Who’s with me? 

For more information on SAD, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out our guide to dealing with seasonal affective disorder, or take a look at the NHS website. If you’re struggling to cope, talk to your GP. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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