A Way Out of the Winter Blues
At the beginning of February during my first year at university I met with my personal advisor and told him I was thinking of dropping out. After chatting for a considerable amount of time I agreed to give it until Easter before deciding for sure. I ended up staying. The following February I went back to the same advisor and once again told him I was thinking about dropping out. I had totally forgotten we had already had this conversation the year before. Thankfully he had not. He reminded me of it and asked me if I thought I might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I had no idea what Seasonal Affective Disorder was. I had never even heard of it.I decided to find out.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a recognised mental health condition and is a form of depression. It mainly affects sufferers during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight and the days are shorter. It can leave you feeling listless, apathetic, tired, hungry, irritable and insecure. As I sat with my professor I realised that it had been a particularly cloudy start to the year and I hadn’t seen full sunlight on over a month! No wonder I wanted to drop out. What my body was craving was hibernation!
Statistics suggest that as many as one in fifteen Brits suffer from S.A.D. each year, and many more have a lesser form of it in terms of the “Winter Blues.” But what can be done about it? Not all of us can afford the time or money to jet off to sunnier climbs, although that is a fantastic solution if you are able. Here is some of my own experience, strength and hope for you fellow suffers out there. I’d love to hear your suggestions too.
S.A.D. Lamps and Light Therapy Boxes
There has been a lot of debate over the effectiveness of S.A.D. Lamps and Light Therapy Boxes. To date there is no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that they do help with S.A.D. However there are numerous individuals who believe that it has helped improve their condition. Do be careful though. There are numerous cheap, and not so cheap, knock-offs out there that will be of no help at all. If you do try to go down this route make sure you buy a medically certified SAD Light Therapy Box. Check the www.sad.org.uk website for details.
I tried a natural sunlight alarm clock. It didn’t personally help me but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be a help to you. Have any of you had success with light boxes?
Spend as much time as you can during daylight hours outside. If you have an indoor job this can be particularly tricky, but every time you head to the coffee machine nip outside for a minute or two. Consider it the S.A.D. equivalent of taking a cigarette break. Even if it is cloudy and raining it’s worth standing in a porch and looking outside. Sunlight is reduced by clouds but not completely blocked or else it would remain like nighttime. Grab what you can! It all adds up.
For the last few years I have started taking Omega-3 fish oil tablets. Research suggests that Omega’3s increase the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain which in turn raises our moods. I have definitely found this to be the case. Since taking these tablets my S.A.D. has been almost unnoticeable compared to how bad it used to be.
Vitamin B6 and Magnesium
I take extra vitamin B6 and magnesium during the winter months (Dec-Feb). These help me maintain healthy sleep cycles and energy levels during the darker nights. I’d definitely recommend this as a seasonal measure against S.A.D., if not all year.
St John’s Wort
Another natural remedy that has been proven to reduce all kinds of depression. I now take St John’s Wort all year round and have been very pleased with the results.
No one should suffer from S.A.D. alone, and in this day and age you don’t need to. There are plenty of support groups you can join online to talk about the challenges you face, identify with other sufferers and get support. I’m a member of a great group on Facebook who have been a lifeline to myself and others during our darkest days.
Here in Britain there still exists a huge stigma around taking drugs for mental health. As someone who is half-American and having spent time living abroad I see no different between taking anti-depressants for depression and taking a paracetamol for a headache. If it works and improves your quality of life then why not? Having tried a number over the years I finally found Agomelatine. It has the least side effects of any I have taken to date. Regardless of what you do take, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to find the right one for you and not to change the dose or stop taking it without medical supervision.
I know you may not feel like doing anything other than hide under your duvet with a large bag of crisps but it does help to make plans. Anything that can remind you that there is life beyond your current situation is helpful. One thing I do is plant bulbs. I have a small green outside my house which overlooks fields and hedgerows. When I’m feeling low I plant a bulb under the trees on the green. When the snowdrops, bluebells, daffodils and tulips come up in the spring I take a photograph of them which I keep on my wall by my bed. When things get bad I remind myself of new life, new beginnings, new growth that is already beginning under the surface even though I can’t see it. This is just one more thing which helps me get through the day.
What other ways do you cope with S.A.D.? I’d love to hear from you.