There’s not much that’s worse than waking up when it’s dark and rainy, then realising it’s 7am and time to get up for work – but it’s not half as bad looking out of a window at 3pm and realising it’s alright nighttime and the sun has already gone.
I’ve always been a rather melancholy kind of lass, but there’s something about the winter months that just seems to drag me down to a place I can’t seem to get out of. My feet ache as I walk to work, legs as heavy as lead. My smile feels fixed as I force out the cheeriness that Christmas and the new year is supposed to bring. Up until a year ago I had no idea why waking up on those dark, dingy mornings where the rain falls steadily and the cold nips at your cheeks would make me want to hide under my covers. It wasn’t until my friend told me about S.A.D that it all kind of made more sense. I began to do a little research, hoping to find a cause for the onslaught of unpleasant and soul-withering feelings I had stuffed into my body.
It seems that S.A.D, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a type of major depression that comes and goes with the changing of the season. Sharing similar symptoms to depression, S.A.D is rather tricky to identify, but here are a few key symptoms that tend to stand out.
- Feelings of irritability
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Problems socialising and getting on with other people
- Hypersensitive to feelings of rejection
- Heaviness of limbs
- Change in appetite, especially cravings of food high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
I ticked each one off in my head as I read the long list I had found online and realised that my winter blues were actually a diagnosable illness. I know for many, this idea of a diagnosable illness seems terrifying, but all it means is that you can find the appropriate treatment and hopefully start the road to recovery.
While the specific cause of S.A.D is still largely a mystery, there are two particularly important
hormones that are considerably affected by the reduced sunlight in the colder months;
Serotonin and Melatonin. Serotonin is a chemical that has a critical impact on your mood, and a lack of this hormone can result in lethargy and even depression, while Melatonin, on the other hand, is a hormone associated with a healthy sleep cycle. As you can imagine, an
imbalance of both these hormones at the same time is enough to spin anyone into a downwards spiral that not even a good cup of tea can save you from.
So, what can you do about this?
As a condition strongly linked with light, one way to help ease the winter blues is to simply be in the sunlight. Why not go for a walk, or perhaps try yoga in a well lit area full of natural light. If you work from home and exercise isn’t for you, why not move your desk right in front of a window and let the sunshine seep into your skin. As someone who really suffers without natural light, I always make sure to set up shop near a source of sunlight; I just can’t function without it.
If you live or work in an area where natural sunlight is sparse, fear not, for there is actually a very good solution to this problem; a happy lamp. Happy lamps produce light that is similar to that emitted by the sun and are a great way to up those Serotonin and Melanin levels. You can find these on Amazon in a variety of prices and sizes. I use one fairly regularly, especially when I’m trying to get some writing done at night, or when the sky is dark and filled with rain clouds.
But please be careful; S.A.D can also be linked to major depression and the two have many overlapping symptoms. While S.A.D’s symptoms are temporary, people who are suffering from major depression tend to have prolonged feelings of depression, hopelessness or worthlessness and are more likely to entertain thoughts of self harm or suicide. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and worry that you may have depression, please contact your doctor and consult with a professional.
Above all, one key piece of advice is sure to see you through the bleakest days – be kind to yourself in these cold months and fill your days with things that you love and remember; you are important and this will pass.
Photography: Rae Tashman