Let's talk about SAD or the 'winter blues'

21 October 2014

*Another lengthy post here, but it's packed full of advice for you.*

Ahhh the winter blues. How I loathe that term, but it's time to talk about it because those days are here. SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have to say I've never been diagnosed with SAD, I've spent the past 10years weeping all year round that it never occurred to me that I had it, or that I needed to get a proper diagnosis for it. But upon seeing my doctor and former psychologist they have always told me about taking more care of myself in the colder months, and shorter days. I sort of see their point, but you know I'm a depressive all year round; I don't need a change in season to spiral me into depression. I've always thought its cold and dark, how can ANYONE be happy in this, alas I am not the norm so you know...

Anyway I digress. We should really talk about what SAD is because sometimes it’s a bit confusing. SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the colder months in the year, typically winter but can start as early as the end of summer. It’s to do with the increased hours of darkness that autumn and winter bestow upon us, short days and the darkness (actual darkness) comes creeping in and it's all a bit shit really.

The science and theories around SAD are not solid. But here’s an overview for you. The lack of daylight affects the brains chemicals, such as serotonin, and when these levels are lowered low moods become increasingly common. Why the lack of daylight causes that is not exactly know. Now this isn’t directly to with Vitamin D, but more about daylight. The flip side of SAD causes is that the lack Vitamin D from the Sun causes SAD, but the studies on this are very conflicting and generally it’s very hard to link the lack of Vitamin D to depression. But it is not known what the exact causes of SAD are, so really it’s a bit of a murky area. I would encourage you to read Mind’s explanation of causes; it’s the best I’ve found in terms of detailing the different reasons.

*Disclaimer: I should just state that these are things I know from doing my research over the years, I’m not a professional, but at the bottom I will list resources to help you understand SAD.*

This is the first year I've ever been geared up to 'fight' SAD, whilst I acknowledge I have depression, I do know that winter seems to intensify it. Events such as Christmas and New Years also make this time of year hard for me because for me it’s never been something to look forward as a kid it never brought anything good but arguments and disappointment. So generally this type of year is awful, I’m reminded about how dysfunctional my family are and how much other people are having fun on the one day I am most certainly not. Granted I'm coming off the medication, so I'm not fully "doing it on my own" but it's the first time I've been very aware. So far I'm good and I'm determined to not let it get the best of me. Although now I'm dealing with news from work which is sure to make my winter even gloomier, but in light of that I've put together some tips to stop the scales tipping in favour of SAD:

Light up your house/room – Invest in some lamps or fairy lights or a brighter bulb. Yes electricity costs money but these small things can really help to improve your mental state. I have fairy lights I got from pound land 2 years ago and they add a wonderful bit of ambience to room, as well as brightening it up. Getting a brighter bulb for your normal light is also something to consider because light is very well proven to help reduce the symptoms of SAD.

Get lighter curtains – If you have thick or blackout curtains you may want to consider changing them, especially if you’re getting up around 8am onwards. Lighter curtains will allow the sunlight to show through the curtains and can make it easier for you to get up. Sadly if your work requires you to get up early (like me) this won’t help very much but it’s something to consider for the weekends. I haven’t even got curtains at the moment (out of sheer laziness) but on the weekend I really appreciate waking up to sunlight!

Watch your food – Saying this one makes me feel a bit funny, because we all know that eating healthy is important for our brain function anyway, but it’s all very hard when you’re feeling like crap and all you want is a pizza. I’m terrible at eating the right foods to give me the extra nutrients I need to fight my depression, so I can relate. The foods are pretty much similar to what they tell you to eat for depression, which are lean meat, folic acid and omega 3’s. Although do visit Bupa’s information about your diet and SAD. It also has good information on light therapy. But essentially be wary about what your current diet is doing to your mood, and stock up on the good stuff, taking it one step at a time by introducing foods daily. One thing I find is eating the right carbs (wholemeal pasta, wholegrain rice, quinoa etc) for dinner (as SAD really peaks around the evening) really helps, because it fulfils that crave for carbs whilst helping your body.

Get out – Okay so you can't go breathe the great outdoors in Ireland like I am in the photo there, but you get my point. If you work full time in an office make sure you use your lunch hour to get some daylight, it’s proven to help and you need all you can get so don’t spend it cooped up inside, wrap up warm and see daylight while you still can. Pop out during the evening too - even if it's just to pop to the shops for a hot chocolate or an avocado - DO IT. Supermarkets are generally well lit, so walking in and around can generally remind you of light and dispel those gloomy feelings. Also just getting that fresh air is also good for you and your body!

Socialise - It's so tempting to go home and sit with that hot chocolate and actually there's nothing wrong with that, but if you're running home after work/school/uni to wish the darkness away you're not doing yourself any favours. Still keep up your social life, it’s important to spend time with people who make you laugh and feel good and it can improve your mood dramatically.

Invest in a light box / Wake Up Lights - I didn't want to include this with the other lighting because it’s slightly different. One of the most effective treatments for SAD is light therapy, so if you find you’re really struggling I suggest you invest in a light box. They are designed specifically for helping with SAD and this simply involves sitting in a room with said light box. They have a higher wattage than your average bulb. Wake up lights are similar but designed so create a smooth transition from sleep to waking up. I slept in a room with the Phillips Wake Up Light in January this year and thought it was fantastic, its ability to gradually lighten up a room really does make waking up easier. Your health is important and getting the right start to the day is very important in shaping how the rest of your day goes. A lot of these boxes have added features of natural lights, radios and alarms so you have a range of things to choose from to ensure you wake up well rested. That being said you still need to make sure you’re sleeping the right amount of hours for your body to get the full benefits of this.

And those are my tips; I tried to be as practical as possible because things you can actually implement sooner, rather than later are the best. Let me know what helps you during these months!

Places to get more information & help:


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  1. Love your blog! I've nominated you for the Liebster award, check out my blog for details :)


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