Beat the Winter Blues!
Do you or someone you know suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?
Are you affected by the loss of light?
The lack of light and endless cloudy skies can have a big impact on our mood even if we wouldn’t be characterised as having SAD.
Help is at hand, read this handy guide to boosting the right hormones and chemicals, and get your brain boosted to beat those blues!
The Happiness Manifesto
This is a workable 10 point plan to help you feel more positive about things
1. Get physical – take at least half an hour exercise 3 to 4 times a week
2. Count your blessings – at the end of each day reflect on one or two things you are grateful for.
3. Take time to talk – have an uninterrupted conversation with your partner, close friend or neighbour each week.
4. Plant something – and keep it alive!
5. Cut your TV viewing down
6. Smile and look up – be mindful of your environment, be in the moment, notice the sky, the trees, the tops of buildings etc.
7. Do something different – break habits, do something different, go somewhere different…. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result (Einstein)
8. Have a good laugh – at least once a week.
9. Give yourself a treat – every day and take the time to enjoy it.
10. Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone whenever you can.
The modern way of living has dramatically altered nature’s cues. A modern day no longer starts at the break of dawn and ends at sunset. Workdays are getting longer and many people face shift work schedules. Additionally, the advent of electric lighting allows social gatherings and personal activities to extend well into the night. These factors have diminished the body’s natural ability to regulate the body clock and this work/life change has resulted in a dramatic increase in light deficiency symptoms.
Unfortunately we have an old brain in a modern world – in other words when we face threat and stress the primitive ‘old’ part of our brain kicks in, forcing us into flight, flight or freeze, also known as anxiety (flight), anger (fight) and depression (freeze).
Our hormones are out of balance and so our brain tells us to hide at the back of the cave and wait it out, or the modern day cave equivalent – your 13 tog duvet!
What is SAD, or winter Blues?
SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe at this time of the year.
The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter. They are most severe during December, January and February.
In most cases, the symptoms of SAD begin to improve in the spring before disappearing.
The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it is thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year.
Sunlight can affect some of the brain’s chemicals and hormones. However, it is not clear what this effect is. One theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which controls mood, appetite and sleep. These things can affect how you feel.
In people with SAD, a lack of sunlight and a problem with certain brain chemicals stops the hypothalamus working properly. The lack of light is thought to affect:
• the production of the hormone melatonin
• the production of the hormone serotonin
• the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock, which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period)
Light passes through the eye to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain which controls a wide range of functions, so symptoms may include a number of the following:
* Low mood, worse than and different from normal sadness
* Negative thoughts and feelings
* Guilt and loss of self-esteem
* Hopelessness and despair
* Fatigue, often making it difficult or impossible to do normal tasks
POOR COGNITIVE FUNCTION
* Difficulties with memory and concentration
* Brain does not work as efficiently or as quickly
* Feelings of tension
* Inability to deal with stress
* Lowered immune system in winter
* More vulnerability to infections
* The need to sleep more
* Oversleeping or difficulty staying awake during the day
* Disturbed sleep patterns and/or early morning awakening
* Increased desire for carbohydrates to boost mood
* Weight gain
* Increased irritability
* Finding it harder to be with people
LOSS OF LIBIDO
* Less interest in sex and physical contact
ALTERED MOOD IN SPRING (MAY VARY)
* Sudden lift in mood
* Agitation/Restlessness or short period of hypomania (over-activity)
* Gradual loss of winter symptoms
As well as training ourselves to think differently, complimentary therapies can also help:
Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Counselling may help the sufferer to deal with SAD. Complementary therapies and meditation which help relaxation and acceptance of the illness are also useful, such hypnotherapy, mindfulness training etc.
Light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. Treatment using modern light boxes emitting 10,000 lux takes 30 – 60 minutes a day.
Boosting your ‘serotonin pool’ will also help, doing things that make you feel good, volunteer, go dancing, try a new class, art, crafts, yoga? Follow the Happiness Manifesto and get your brain on broad!