SAD-Seasonal Affective Disorder

I live in the UK, and it is nearly always cold here! It’s tiresome that for most of the year I am in long sleeves, coats and boots. It’s chilly from mid September until the end of April, which means that for 8 months, there is very little sun and warmth. In the last few years I’ve been noticing a pattern in my moods; I definitely feel more depressed or anxious by the end of winter. I am generally a very happy and positive person, so it is strange for me to feel this way.

Do you feel this way too? Perhaps you have SAD, which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recognised illness, the NHS lists the symptoms of SAD as:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

All is not lost! There are so many ways in which we can help ourselves feel better!

Circadian Rhythm

It’s known that our body’s internal clock is affected by the the amount of daylight we are exposed to, and hormones like serotonin and melatonin become imbalanced, causing feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as insomnia at night.

Our circadian rhythm (the internal clock) is reset each day by various factors, such as when we first eat and the time of day we are first exposed to light, so it really makes sense we go outside in the mornings. Indoor lighting doesn’t have the same effect. The brightness of light is measured by a unit of ‘LUX’. Indoor lighting only measures in at around 200-700 LUX, whereas even on an overcast day, there is around 1000 LUX outside, rising to over 120 000 LUX on a bright day.

What can you do to reset your internal clock to prevent SAD?

Try Light Therapy:

Go outside in the morning! Even if it’s not very bright, take a short walk or drink your breakfast coffee in the garden. The light needs to hit your eyes, so try to avoid sunglasses.

Sitting by a bright window can help too, so have a think about which room in your home is brightest and try to spend some more time in there.

But what if it is too dark outside?

Special SAD lamps are available which are designed to deliver at least 10 000 LUX. I find that having one in my bedroom whilst I’m getting ready in the morning makes a big difference to my mood. It is recommended that you sit close to the lamp for at least 30 minutes, but I found this gave me headaches due to the extreme brightness. Instead I keep it about 4 feet away from my dressing table, and that still seems to help.

If you work at home, a SAD lamp near your work station will help to lift your mood and make you feel more energised.

Be careful not to use SAD lamps in the evening though, as they may keep you awake! I tend not to use them after mid afternoon.

Lifestyle

It is tempting to stay in bed for longer in winter, and the thought of exercising when it’s dark feels like too much effort. You may feel like eating stodgy comfort food too.

Unfortunately all of these things contribute to that depressed feeling.

Staying in bed longer means that your regular routine is delayed. This can upset your circadian rhythm: not only are you seeing less light, but your eating patterns are delayed, and this affects how well your internal clock resets itself.

Sleeping more than you need will actually make you feel even more sleepy!

The best thing to do is to wake up at the same time every morning so that your body resets at a regular time. Try to have your first meal of the day at the same time each day to regulate your digestion and body clock.

Exercise

Movement stimulates the body, so by cutting down on your usual level of movement can make you feel even more sluggish. Perhaps you can change the type of exercise you do in winter? If you normally run in good weather, try doing a quick indoor session instead, there are so many available online. Since lockdown in 2020 I have become addicted to online HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) classes. they only take about 15-20 minutes but they wake me up and make me feel better afterwards. The increased blood flow and oxygen will have a really positive effect on your mood, so if you don’t do it already, definitely give indoor exercise a try. You don’t need to do HIIT, do something that you like.

Food choices

Craving and eating comfort food can create a lot of blood sugar imbalances, which contribute to SAD. It is so tempting to have warm bread, hot fluffy potatoes, pies, puddings and chocolate when it’s cold and horrible outside, but these types of foods will cause your blood sugar to rise very rapidly. Your body compensates by making a lot of insulin, which causes a quick drop in sugar levels, aka, a ‘sugar crash’. This crash not only leaves you even more hungry an hour or two later, but will also make you feel sleepy and fatigued. You reach for a sugary snack and coffee to wake you up, but this only repeats the same cycle.

Regulating your glucose levels can help with feeling tired, and the other benefit is that there will be reduced inflammation in your body and weight loss. Where possible, eat less processed foods, bread, potatoes, pasta, rice and sugary sweets and desserts. Try to eat more protein, fats, pulses, vegetables and whole fruits.

Avoiding caffeine in the afternoons and evenings will also help your body to sleep better at night, allowing for a better routine.

Moods

It helps to have activities to fall back on to keep you feeling positive. When you notice your happiness levels dropping, stop what you’re doing and do something different to cheer yourself up. It’s important to be proactive about it.

For example, you could:

-call someone for a chat

-get some fresh air

-meditate

-listen to uplifting happy music

-read a bit of a novel

-listen to a funny podcast

-watch a funny TV show or movie

-indulge in your favourite hobby

-play with your pets

-go out into nature

-write in a journal

-try flower remedies for your specific mood

Try not to get sucked into doing too many things on your phone or going onto social media. That usually causes even more depression, especially when you realise that you have wasted an hour of your life watching useless videos or reading aggravating or mind-numbing comments on posts from people you don’t even know! Also steer clear of online shopping, you will be even more likely to buy something you don’t need if you are feeling low.

Hang in there!

Your lifestyle and light therapy can really help you to feel better. A lot of the time we don’t realise that we are changing the way we live because of the weather and darkness of winter. I find that trying not to give in to these urges and actively trying to do something positive when I feel low is effective most of the time.

If you already do all of these things but still feel bad, please seek professional help. You can do CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) courses and your doctor can also prescribe medication or can order blood tests to check for nutrient deficiencies. Quite often, a lack of vitamin D can cause depression in winter, so it’s worth investigating if you have tried everything else.

Just hang in there! The winters may be long, but eventually the light and warmth will return.

Look after yourself well in the meantime.

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Charlin

Charlin has a background in teaching and education but has always had a keen interest in health, nutrition and spiritual wellbeing. She lives in Surrey with her cycling obsessed husband and three crazy children. She works as a reiki master/teacher at blossomreiki.co.uk and writes for aurasandapricots.com.

Let me know what you think, please leave a comment!