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Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD

It is that time of year, the days are getting shorter, the clocks have gone back and we see less and less daylight, even during the day it can seem dull with little light getting through the dense layer of rain clouds (particularly if you, like me live in the rainy Northwest!!). For many people – three in a hundred according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/seasonal-affective-disorder-(sad)#:~:text=In%20the%20UK%2C%20about%203,100%20have%20significant%20winter%20depressions.) – it signals the time of year when the ‘winter blues’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) rears its ugly head.

So what exactly is this SAD? Well it is a set of symptoms thought to be related to the lack of exposure to sunlight (though the exact causes are not yet fully understood). Scientist think that one of the main causes is that the reduced sunlight prevents the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that helps with things such as controlling the body’s temperature, energy levels, appetite, hormone levels, emotional regulation etc.) from working as effectively which;

- Reduces our serotonin production, so, as serotonin is a hormone that affects moods, sleep, appetite etc. these things are negatively affected.

- Produces melatonin in higher levels, because melatonin is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy, results in that lethargic feeling.

- Impacts on our internal clock, our circadian rhythm, the part of us that uses light and dark to tell us when it is time to be awake and when to be asleep leading us to feel sleepy, groggy and disorientated at inconvenient times.

What does all that mean though? What does SAD actually look like and, importantly what can you do about it? Well symptoms include;

- Feeling low/depressed/sad/hopeless

- Poor self-esteem/worthlessness

- Changes in your sleep routine

- Lethargy/fatigue

- Loss of interest and pleasure in things you usually enjoy

- Feeling more irritable and/or stressed

- Trouble focusing and concentrating

- Aches and pains

- Changes to your appetite i.e craving more carbohydrates

What can you do about it? As with everything, different things work for different people, try things out and see what works for you

- Get as much sunlight as you can i.e schedule walks daily, even when its raining (walking in the rain is thought to be therapeutic), sit by a window when you can, let as much light into your space as you can, exercise outside or near a window

- Have a healthy balanced diet – make sure you include foods with Vitamin D in such as egg yolks, mushrooms, fatty fish and sea food

- Find ways to manage stress – Headspace (www.headspace.com ) has some really good short meditations for this, maybe learn some breathing exercises to calm yourself down, do a brain dump and plan/prioritise

- Start a gratitude diary – at the end of every day write down at least 3 good things that have happened that day.

- Give yourself some self-compassion and understanding, there is a reason you feel as you do and it isn’t a reason to beat yourself up, you are doing what you can do with what you have right now, and that’s enough.

- Get yourself a SAD lamp/box – this is a lamp that emits a very bright light, the idea is you sit by it for half an hour every morning and it (is thought it) stimulates the production of serotonin and reduces the production of melatonin. See - https://lloydspharmacy.com/blogs/general-health/sad-lamp and https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/ for more information.

- Start a good bedtime routine and get up at roughly the same time every day.

- Speak to your GP if you feel it is getting in the way of your life – they may want to prescribe medications.

- Counselling can help you sort through everything that is going on in your head and come to new understanding of yourself and how to cope in your own way

For me getting outside as often as I can, giving my self some compassion and exercise works the best, what about you? Is there anything that helps you that I haven’t mentioned?

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