Is it a SAD time of year?
It’s that time of year, when the clocks in the UK turn back an hour on Sunday morning. For a short while, we’ll feel the benefit of daylight saving in the morning, but the consequence is the evenings drawing in earlier.
For some people, this is a very real challenge with debilitating consequences.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise referred to as SAD, winter depression, or the winter blues, is reported to affect at least 1 in 5 people in the UK. The likelihood is that you know someone who is dreading entering the winter period.
What is SAD?
SAD is predominantly associated with winter, although there are some people who experience SAD in the summer and feel better in the winter. The significant majority, however, experience it as the winter blues.
The symptoms of SAD can include:
- Low mood, which becomes persistent
- A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- Experiencing irritability
- Having feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness
- Experiencing fatigue and feeling tired during the day
- Struggling to concentrate and experiencing brain fog
- Sleeping longer than normal and waking unrefreshed
- Changes to eating habits, predominantly craving more carbohydrates
The symptoms can range from mild, where day to day life is largely unaffected, through to severe where every part of daily life is negatively impacted.
It’s a serious form of mental ill-health and shouldn’t be ignored.
Until very recently SAD was often mocked, not believed to be a ‘real’ illness, something that was being made up. As mental health becomes more understood and accepted, so does SAD, but it can still be easily misunderstood. Let’s make a change to that.
What causes SAD?
It’s one of those areas that’s not fully understood yet, but all the research points to the impacts associated with having less exposure to daylight.
Exposure to natural light stimulates the brain to produce certain hormones and neurotransmitters, along with influencing how we sleep.
Melatonin, which helps us sleep, and serotonin, which is connected to mood, both become dysregulated. That, in turn, gets our internal body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, out of balance. All of this combined is believed to lead to the symptoms associated with SAD.
And that all makes sense to me. From all my training and practice as a Nutritional Therapist, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of natural light in how we feel and our ability to thrive.
USE THE LIGHT – the one thing you must do
What follows from all of that information is the logical step to make good use of the daylight that we do have. And I’m talking here about natural daylight, no matter how grey or short a day it might be. It might not be much right now, but every bit is of use!
I urge you to USE THE LIGHT by doing the following:
- Increase daylight exposure by being outdoors as much as possible during daylight hours
- There is also the option of using a light box to simulate exposure to sunlight
- And, embrace the darkness later in the evening – dim the lights to let your brain know it’s time to sleep
“But, but, but” I hear you cry….
- Daylight hours are when I’m working and I can’t leave what I’m doing indoors
- The only time I can get outdoors is when it’s dark, first thing in the morning or last thing at night
- I have no desire to spend time outdoors at this time of year – it’s miserable!
And whilst I hear you and empathise, I honestly believe this is the most effective thing you can do to support your SAD symptoms during these winter months, so do have a think about what adjustments you can make. Taking action in this space consistently over these autumn and winter months could really help you – there’s not much to lose.
Steps you can take
- As soon as daylight arrives, spend a bit of time outdoors or at your window – you can drink your cuppa or take a work call whilst you are doing it
- Be sure to take breaks throughout the day that expose you to natural light
- Check if your work environment allows you to see the light – maybe even change the direction of your desk to face a window
- And don’t forget to consult your GP or health practitioner if you are struggling – there are other things that can help, ranging from natural supplements, medication, and talking therapies.
If you’re managing a team:
- Check-in with people to see how they are affected in the winter.
- Check their working environment and whether they have exposure to natural light – with everyone working at home, you need to ask and not assume.
- Discuss the routine of the working day – can they take time out during the day to get outside?
- If you’re concerned about their mental health, ask how you can support them, and update yourself on what services you can signpost to.
Banishing the winter blues
OK, that might be an over-ambitious statement, but there are ways to make a positive difference to SAD symptoms, and using the light is a really key one.
Image credit: Dan Freeman via Unsplash