Are you missing the sun? I don't know about you, but I always find my energy levels and mood become lower during the short, grey days of winter. Our Guest blogger, Holistic Therapist, Helen Buckley, was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder in her teens. She shares some of her thoughts and tactics on this common problem here.
Season Affective Disorder or more commonly known as SAD is described as a form of depression that has a seasonal trend. It is estimated that 29% of the population suffer from it with women 40% more like to suffer from it. Of the population 8% suffer from acute symptoms and the remaining 21% of sufferers with mild symptoms.
Symptoms tend to increase during the winter months with some rare occasions of summer months causing SAD symptoms. The cause is thought to be the reduced hours of sunlight that increases the production of melatonin which increases the requirement to sleep, lowers serotonin which increases appetite and disrupts the body’s internal body clock normally regulated by the sun rise and set.
Officially symptoms tend to be:
Diagnosis normally takes over a period of time with a pattern of symptoms with a trend throughout the year and treatment is varied. I can only speak for myself, what I have found useful and my journey learning to live with it and embracing it as a part of me. I cannot speak for everyone else. I suggest that you find what works for you and if for one year it doesn’t work review and if you feel you need to, change it. You know your body and learn to trust yourself that you know what is best for it and you.
My journey started during my early teens. At this time, I was training heavily, often twice a day. Over a couple of years my mother noticed I would tend to be low during the winter months and thought my iron levels were possibly low so arranged visits to the GP for tests. These were completed and levels found to be normal. This occurred for a couple more years, where I was sent for x-rays and further blood tests. During one GP appointment she mentioned that there seemed to be a pattern and the GP subsequently diagnosed me with SAD. I left the GP office with no knowledge about what it meant and, in all honesty, I don’t think either of my parents knew either.
I progressed through my teen and twenty years, dreading the winter months and yet instinctively knowing I would normally feel better if I ate well and continued to exercise. It is a common misconception that people who regularly exercise find it easy to keep going. That is false. I would force myself to exercise every day, sometimes allowing myself a minimum of 20mins because I knew if I didn’t, I would feel terrible the next day. It would not be a love of exercise more of a fear of how bad I would feel if I did not.
As I left university and found my first job, I experienced one of my worse winters and visited the GP. I was prescribed antidepressants and lasted a total of 7days before the side effects were too much and I stopped taking them. I started investigating what SAD actually was and how to cope with it naturally.
I would class my symptoms as mild. I know my strengths and I know my weak points and I plan for them. I will split my tools into groups.
Plan and prepare
I know when my ultimate low months are and I plan for them. I joke with close friends and say I don’t do January and February. That really is not a joke. For those two months I survive and I expect the absolute minimum from my body. I do not participate in New Years resolutions; I allow myself to feel and heal. I see it as a time to withdraw and to recuperate for the months to come. I sleep on average 8 to 10 hours a day. Family life demands I keep to a minimum and I regularly keep weekends free if I can.
I know if I have things to look forward to it keeps me going so, I have major celebrations such as Halloween, Winter solstice, Christmas, Family birthdays and finally coming of Spring. Without my steps to the spring I feel lost.
In contrast during the summer months I will regularly function well on 5 hours sleep and have countless energy. Between the two there is a happy medium I am sure.
I cannot emphasis the importance of a healthy diet. We have all read the benefits of a healthy diet. This is not the place to preach. We know what we need to do. Personally, I perform better on a plant-based diet but I compromise because I have a family and they have requirements too. Yes, it is boring and sometimes I feel like throwing it all in but as long as I can say I mainly eat healthily I function better. As a nutritional therapist I know this but I as an individual I can say I need to walk what I talk. I do gain a little weight but I allow myself to do so and do not beat myself up because I will likely lose it again during the summer months. I also ensure I take multi vitamins and a vitamin D supplement which I have found more important in my later years.
I have covered this earlier on. I feel better if I exercise daily. We know exercise releases the feel-good hormones. The key is finding exercise we enjoy. As I have progressed through life these sports have changed and that is ok. Currently I enjoy belly dancing, running, yoga, walking my dogs, playing outside with my children and my allotment. I prefer to class as staying active, remember I am always listening to my body and practicing self-care in doing what my body will thank me for in the future.
There are lots of items on the market to assist with SAD symptoms. I use a couple of them. I have a lumie lamp that I love and I own a daylight lamp. I have tried daylight bulbs and the lamp but, in all honesty, I do not fit with them. I know they work for others and this is where I suggest you try and find out what works for you. I find they give my headaches.
I strongly follow nature and look for the little signs. I plant snowdrops, crocus and daffodil bulbs for me to watch bloom in the Spring. I call them my 3 steps to Spring and they give me little milestones to make it to during those dark months. I walk the fields near me and look for little buds of life coming back. Nature has its way of giving us promise if we know what to look for. We also have ducks and chickens in the back garden and I love watching their behaviour as they look forward to the lengthening daylight hours.
I use aromatherapy blends to help boost me through particular moments, which I blend myself. Again, I know the essential oils which work best for me.
Trust in yourself, talk and ask for help.
I know what I am capable of, I know my limits and I know my signs. I trust myself and my body. Sometimes I need to accept my limitations and ask others to step in and support me a little. I dislike doing this but once again I practice the self-care of what is my body and mind going to thank me for.
I have and still am changing the words I use. I prefer to use positive language. I meditate and practice mindfulness and use visualisations quite often to imagine the summer months. I am aware that the dark months are just that, a period of time that will change.
I hope you have found these tactics useful. SAD is a personal journey and needs a tailored plan on how to support you through it. If you have any comments or questions please do feel free to contact me. Helen can be contacted via her website, www.reviveall.co.uk
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