Seasonal Affective Disorder is now in full swing and there’s a month to go before the winter solstice marks the planets’ tilt towards the sun and the return of light to the northern hemisphere. Many of my clients, colleagues and friends are experiencing SAD symptoms and are grateful for support that takes them seriously and offers practical, achievable solutions. I can’t guarantee that you will be totally cured if you follow this advice but you will feel much better.
As always, your GP is your friend and if s/he’s not, change your GP.
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
A form of depression that coincides with autumn and winter when levels of sunlight are low. Very occasionally, a person can experience SAD associated with high levels of sunlight. It’s less conventional depression, more of a kind of despair that you’re finding it impossible to do what you’re expected or needed to do.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SAD?
Many mammals, including humans, significantly slow down over winter. Needing to conserve energy, eat carbohydrates to keep warm, snoozing and sleeping more during winter is entirely natural but not compatible with modern life.
WHAT HELPS SAD?
Natural Light – get out into daylight for an hour every day. If you find that you can’t spend one hour a day in daylight your life is out of balance. This is not New Age nonsense, this is a fact. It is not reasonable to be unable to spend one hour a day – just seven hours a week – in daylight.
Walking or running outside is especially helpful, but getting to the gym is great too.
Big breakfast, lighter lunch, smaller evening meal. Fruit and veg. The usual advice. Splurging over Christmas holidays is not a sin.
The later in the year you buy one the more it will cost, but still you can get a good one for £50 in December. Look for one that is Medically Certified and no less than 10,000 lux (Lux is the SI unit for illumination).
A light alarm clock
Most people with SAD find that they wake as the sun rises. In December this can be around 8am and on a grim day barely at all. A light alarm clock simulates dawn, slowly and steadily increasing illumination until it’s very bright at the time you’ve set it to wake you. This helps regulate your sleeping and waking patterns.
Visit your GP
Ask her if she will order the following blood tests:
hbA1c – a much more accurate test of blood sugar than the fasting test. Your fasting blood sugar can be fine and you can have Type 2 diabetes, which will make you feel tired.
Thyroid – low levels of thyroxin can make you sluggish, feel cold and put on weight. High levels can increase your anxiety and tendency to panic.
Red blood cell count – anaemia can make you feel cold, weary and unwell.
Vitamin D – there’s some evidence to suggest that lack of vitamin D is linked to depression.
All these blood tests can be taken via one needle!
Talk with her about taking antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help increase the hormone serotonin, low levels of which are associated with SAD. Many people with SAD start taking prescribed antidepressants from around October until March every year.
If you’re using psychotherapy to discover the deep-seated roots of your seasonal misery you may well discover something that helps you make sense of this part of your life. But in my opinion it’s like looking for a psychological cause for kidney failure. Therapy can offer support while you’re experiencing SAD or exploring the best treatments for it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that focuses on helping you get SAD into perspective and planning activities that will help you move through it more easily is helpful. CBT that aims to make you a person who doesn’t experience SAD is not.
MIND Seasonal Affective Disorder
NHS Seasonal Affective Disorder
The Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire – an interesting self test to determine your circadian rhythms and when you might find it most useful to use a light box.
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