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Seasonal Affective Disorder & Burnout- Managing the overlapping symptoms

It’s that time of the year again when the season has turned. The brightness of the sky feels like a dimmer switch is being gradually turned down. Morning darkness has been creeping in along with an earlier evening twilight. The Autumn rust and bronze colours have been sweeping across the landscape signalling it is time to start thinking about hibernating.

It is easy to romanticise this time of year when you enjoy the darker season and slowing down. But when you are someone who has been battling with a long burnout and also know that you can be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be a very uncertain time.

To make this time feel less threatening for you I am going to unpack signs and symptoms experienced with both Burnout and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Then I will go on to give you straightforward changes you can implement to support with both.

Let’s get started with looking at the similarities that burnout and SAD share-

1. Mood Changes: Both burnout and SAD can lead to mood changes. You may experience sadness, irritability, or a general sense of hopelessness in both conditions.

2. Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom in both cases. If you experience burnout and SAD you may feel extremely tired and lacking in energy.

3. Cognitive Impairments: Difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, and brain fog can occur in both burnout and SAD.

4. Physical Symptoms: If you are familiar with either condition you may experience physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal issues.

5. Social Withdrawal: Both conditions can lead to social withdrawal and reduced interest in activities or relationships.

6. Genetics: Your susceptibility to experience either burnout or seasonal affective disorder can be a result of your genes. Your DNA can determine how you can handle stress and also how you can absorb and metabolise vitamin D.

Now that we have a better understanding of the similarities let’s dive into some of the differences:

1. Seasonal Patterns: SAD is characterised by a seasonal pattern, typically occurring in the Autumn and Winter months when there's less natural sunlight. Burnout can happen at any time of the year and is not tied to seasons.

2. Root Causes: Burnout is primarily related to chronic stress, excessive life stresses, and emotional exhaustion. SAD, on the other hand, is linked to reduced exposure to natural sunlight and changes in circadian rhythms.

3. Onset and Duration: SAD follows a seasonal pattern with a predictable onset and relief from symptoms during the year. Burnout can develop gradually and persist for longer periods or until significant changes are made with your environment, lifestyle, nutrition and mindset.

4. Specific Triggers: Burnout often results from life stressors getting too much to handle, while SAD is related to a lack of sunlight and can be triggered or exacerbated by changes in seasons.

We can see that there are some clear differences between both conditions and also some definite overlaps. It may be the case that you are going through a burnout and you will also experience SAD with the change of the season. Making it undoubtedly more difficult to navigate your plan to support yourself over the coming months.

If we explore treatment approaches for each condition, we can see that burnout treatment often involves lifestyle and nutrition change, stress management techniques and therapy, while SAD treatment may include light therapy, supplementation, and lifestyle adjustments related to exposure to natural light.

To stick with my favourite theme of giving you three tips that you can implement right away I will focus on 3 nutrition and lifestyle tips that will support you if going through burnout or SAD or both!

1. Increase Magnesium through food or supplementation- Magnesium is a powerhouse mineral and supports energy balance in the body along with promoting quality sleep, supporting nervous system regulation and relaxing muscles. Magnesium is also required by Vitamin D to become bioavailable in the body, an essential co-factor. You can increase magnesium rich foods by including green leafy veggies, wholegrains, nuts and seeds in your diet. If you want to supplement Magnesium, I recommend you speak to a nutrition professional to recommend the type of Magnesium that would work for you and also to check if there are any contraindications with any medications you may be on.

2. Optimise your routines around sleep- With both SAD and burnout it may be the case that you are not getting good quality sleep or feeling energised. Making sure you have a set time to go to bed and wake everyday is important. The body likes to work in cycles and is very habitual. Start cutting off screen time one hour before bed. If you can’t manage an hour, try 30 minutes.

3. Nervous System Regulation and Relaxation- With both burnout and SAD your body will generally run on stress hormones and you will feel all over the place. Starting off with being a bit kinder to yourself by introducing some gentle breathing exercise throughout the day. Try the 2 breaths in through your nose and 1 out through your mouth for 1 minute a few times through out the day. Roll your shoulders back and down and stretch out and tight spots you may be holding tension. These exercises have a link to the vagus nerve and will help to switch you out of a stress state into a more rested state.

I could not mention SAD without mentioning Vitamin D. If you feel that you are experiencing SAD I recommend that you speak to your GP to get tested for Vitamin D deficiency. In the Northern Hemisphere in the Autumn and Winter months it is recommended to supplement with Vitamin D. It is always best to have your levels tested to make sure you supplement in the correct amounts for your levels.

It is important to keep in mind that while there are commonalities, every person's experience with burnout and SAD is unique. If you suspect you are dealing with either condition, please do seek guidance from a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

This information and these tips are just a basic starting point and it is important to seek help when you need it. If you need to talk about this further get in touch through my contact page or drop me an email

Know that there is hope and by making the right changes for you, you could see a significant difference in your overall feelings of health and wellbeing.

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