Dreading Christmas? You could have SAD

Our resident GP Dr Mark Porter shares his expert view on how to deal with low moods during the festive season.

While many people look forward to Christmas, there are just as many who dread it.  Age UK estimates that around 1.5 million people over 65 will be feeling loney at Christmas, with one million of them planning on eating Christmas Day dinner alone. 

But could that lack of festive mood be down to loneliness or something more serious? And could medication help?  


Lonely woman at Christmas -Credit: Shutterstock/Sergio Photone

Dr Mark Porter says: 

Never underestimate the toll of loneliness on mental and physical wellbeing. Some people do prefer their own company, but they are few and far between and most of us need – and thrive on – regular social interaction. 

Age UK estimates that 1.5 million people struggle with loneliness at Christmas, which is why it has volunteers offering telephone and face-to-face befriending services.

I know it can seem a big step to strike up a conversation with a stranger but the charity – and its partner Silver Line – has a lot of experience in helping people who are feeling lonely. You can visit their website or call them on 0800 678 1602 (open 8am-7pm, every day). 

Feeling lonely?  

As well as AGE UK, there are lots of other organisations out there that can help if you’re struggling with your mental health or experiencing loneliness.  

  • Call Samaritans any time on 116 123 if you feel like you need a chat. Alternatively, you can email jo@samaritans.org or text SHOUT to 85258. 
  • Opening Doors offers support to combat loneliness among LGBTQ+ people over 50.
  • Men’s Sheds are kitted-out community spaces, where men can enjoy practical hobbies and make friends at the same time. 
  • If you’re feeling lonely because you’ve lost a partner, Cruse offers support via its helpline and localised support, from one-to-one sessions to walking groups. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Shorter winter days can affect mood, which may explain any recurring episodes of depression at this time.  

Around one in 30 people in the UK experiences winter-related episodes of low mood caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  

 Common symptoms include: 

  • lack of interest in things 
  • low energy 
  • sleepiness 
  • altered appetite (often increased) 

SAD can be helped by medication (antidepressants) and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.  

Light therapy, essentially sitting near special light boxes that mimic sunlight, is another option, as is spending as much time outside on bright, wintry days as possible.

Daylight falling on the back of the eye triggers chemical changes in the brain that can make you feel better – a benefit light boxes mimic. 

Further information on SAD 

  • Mind have more information about the condition and how you can tackle it on its website. 
  • NHS Scotland have 10 top tips on how to combat SAD.
  • Discover the NHS-recommended treatment for SAD.
Dr Mark Porter

Written by Dr Mark Porter