Change of Seasons, Change of Self: A word on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
As we head towards the end of the year, where the seasons change and the winter months creep upon us, many of us may begin to experience, sometimes annually without fail the ‘winter blues.’ Otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is when we notice a shift in our usual mental wellbeing and begin to feel a number of things change, such as; feeling low in mood or depressed, lethargic, low self-esteem, physical and mental fatigue, lack of interest in doing things we usually enjoy and sometimes just feeling a bit hopeless.
These are just some of the impacts that the darker, colder winter months can have on us and it can often feel like a real struggle to look after ourselves during this time and can have a huge impact on our day to day lives.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is extremely common and it is important to bear in mind that this maybe something you are susceptible to, if you notice any of the above symptoms. But remember it will also pass. As with the passing of the seasons, so too will your experience of SAD.
There are things that can help you during this time however; if you feel this is having a significant impact on your life. These are:
· Go outside as much as you can (even on the coldest wintery days)
- Our bodies are responding to a lack of day/sunlight during the winter and as a result our bodies produce more melatonin; which is a hormone that makes us feel sleepier than usual. This has a knock-on effect to our levels of serotonin in the body, which are lower during the winter, which affects our mood and may lead to feelings of depression.
· Keep a regular bedtime routine
- As the nights draw in and it becomes darker earlier and earlier into the day, our bodies circadian rhythm is thrown out of balance and can lead to symptoms of SAD. It can be useful to use lights to trick your mind into thinking it is light outside and therefore, not time to go to bed at 5pm when it is pitch black outside. This may help you to stick to a usual night time routine which helps with overall sleep hygiene and wellbeing.
- No one needs me to tell them that exercise is good for you…but in the winter this inevitably becomes more of a hassle and is often neglected. If you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder it may be worth pushing yourself that one step further to incorporate exercise into your routine, to really keep the winter blues at bay and enjoy the benefits that movement of your body brings.
· Talk to someone
- This doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional (although a therapist can help you explore this further and look at ways to manage your experience), but if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms why not share what you’re going through with someone else. This will serve a number of functions, but mainly relieve you of the burden of carrying what can feel like an enormous weight and lighten your load. Secondly, when others know how you’re feeling, particularly those closest to you they will understand when you’re having ‘an off day’ and who knows they may share in your experience which can bring solace in itself to know you’re not alone.
· Listen to your body
- During the winter months our bodies naturally tend to slow down and want to rest and recuperate. Be kind to yourself and listen to this urge. Winter is a great time to find pleasure in other areas of life, whether it’s reading a good book, enjoying time to create something or generally just taking our foot off the gas and slowing things down. As with anything try to find balance in what you do, so not to hibernate completely, but if you feel the urge to wind down a little more than usual, go with it and allow yourself some much needed time to recharge.
So as the picturesque, sunshine filled, colours of autumn begin to fade and the winter beckons, pay attention to how you too change with the passing of the seasons. Stay present and connected to yourself through this time, with that little extra mindful attention you can nurture yourself and enjoy the winter from a different point of view.