I just returned from a 2 week Florida stint and, yes, you guys guessed right, it was all sun and fun. In Nigeria and other warm climes, it’s no big deal but it’s certainly a big deal for those escaping the cold weather for a bit.
I returned to work and noticed a trend in my clients – as the weather got even chillier, the moods are also getting cold! I remembered how the weather affects our moods and minds, starting from the fabric colours which are dimmed in autumn and dulled in winter and almost barely reduced to just covering up and keeping warm as against the bright colours of summer which gives the spark and lifts the spirit.
Yes, these must affect the mind somewhat, the glowing of the sun with longer and brighter days must make for brighter moods as opposed to the dull and dark days where it’s nigh black from 4pm — the mind must also be ready to go dark with the dark or be as grey as the clouds .. and oh, yes, Vitamin D gotten from exposure in the sun improves our overall wellbeing and mental state and this vitamin absorption is diminished when the sun is off duty in autumn and winter so all the ingredients are well set to induce in the susceptible what is known as Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD occurs in warm climes too and the basis might be a little varied but the explanation is still very much around seasons. In the tropics and other warm climates, it is characterised by depression that occurs at the same time every year, especially during the rainy period.
So have I come with doom and gloom now that the weather has changed? No, but to share a little insight about this important mental health issue and help understand why SAD occurs, be mindful as it creeps in, recognise it, seek help and be able to do things that will prevent or minimise its impact on daily living.
So, what is seasonal affective disorder otherwise called winter blues?
SAD (Seasonal affective disorder)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.
SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” and “rainy depression’’ because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter in the cold climes and during the rainy season in the warm climes.
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of regular depression, but they occur repetitively at a particular time of the year. They usually start in the autumn or winter and improve in the spring. (However, some people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter).
The nature and severity of SAD vary from person to person. For some, it may be mild while for others it can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day life.
Symptoms of SAD can include
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- feeling lethargic( lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleeping longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- craving food and gaining weight
- difficulty concentrating
- decreased sex drive
What causes SAD
The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days or in the tropics during the rainy seasons.
The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might cause a part of the brain called the hypothalamus to stop working properly, which may cause an imbalance in:
- the hormone that regulates sleep (melatonin) causing you to sleep more.
- the hormone that affects your mood causing mood swings and low mood.
- the body’s internal clock ( Circadian rhythm) causing its disruption.
Treatments for SAD
A range of treatments are available for SAD. Your Doctor will recommend the most suitable treatment programme for you.
The main treatment options are:
- lifestyle measures – including getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels
- light therapy – where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight
- talking therapies – with specialist therapists to help you understand how your thoughts and interactions can be modified to help you improve (lots are available to self-refer confidentially and offered free by charities).
- Antidepressant medicines – to help balance and improve your mood
Things you can try yourself
There are a number of things you can do to help improve your symptoms:
- try to get as much natural sunlight as possible-even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial
- make your home and work environment as lit and airy as possible
- sit near windows when indoors
- take plenty of regular exercise particularly outdoors and in daylight and eat a healthy balanced diet
- avoid stress where possible and where not possible take proactive steps to manage stress
It can also be helpful to talk to your family and friends about SAD, so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. This can help them to support you more effectively.
Now, talking about managing our stress levels (I should preach to self!)
10 stress busters
- First, identify the cause: gives you a fair chance of tackling the issues
- Take control and try to do something about it; it is empowering and removes the feeling of helplessness
- Seek a good social network- connect with people, it helps to see things from a different perspective
- Have some “me time”- take time to relax and do what you enjoy
- Challenge yourself- setting yourself goals helps builds self-confidence
- Avoid unhealthy habits; they mask problems short term but create new ones long term.
- Help others; it improves your resilience
- Work smarter, not harder; concentrate on tasks that make a difference and accept that you can’t do everything.
- Be Positive: look for the positives in life and for things you are grateful
- Accept things you can’t change; focus on what you can control
Mental health crisis helplines: If you’re in crisis and need to talk right now, there are many helplines staffed by trained people ready to listen. They won’t judge you, and could help you make sense of what you’re feeling.
- Samaritans. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email email@example.com or visit some branches in person. You can also call the Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).
- SANEline. If you’re experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).
- National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK. Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7).
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). You can call the CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm-midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service.
- Shout. If you would prefer not to talk but want some mental health support, you could text SHOUT to 85258. Shout offers a confidential 24/7 text service providing support if you are in crisis and need immediate help.
- The Mix. If you’re under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (3pm–midnight every day), request support by email using this form on The Mix website or use their crisis text messenger service.
- Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you’re under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 07786 209 697.
- Nightline. If you’re a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
- Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email email@example.com or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
- C.A.L.L. If you live in Wales, you can call the Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L.) on 0800 132 737 (open 24/7) or you can text ‘help’ followed by a question to 81066.
- Helplines Partnership. For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines. Mind’s Infoline can also help you find services that can support you.
OUTSIDE THE UK/ WORLDWIDE
If you’re outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.
Remember, shout out for help, mental health matters!
Credits: “Friendspiration”– a big thank you to all my friends that share their experiences with me, honour me with their trust and allow me the privilege of their insight and wisdom.
References; Nhs Uk, Mind, Google searches on SAD in Nigeria and other hot climates worldwide.