Seasonal Affective Disorder
Halloween doesn’t Just signal the start of ghoulish costumes on our streets, it also sees the clocks going back an hour. For people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) though, this can cause a feeling of trepidation and angst that is very real and can lead to the sufferer struggling to do the everyday activities that they may have done during other seasons.
What does the clocks going back mean for sufferers?
The mornings stay darker for longer and the evenings get darker earlier. Whereas you might go for a daily walk in summer, the winter weather can make this far too overbearing for someone with SAD. Lethargy, lack of focus, trouble sleeping, feeling down and appetite changes are some of the symptoms of this condition.
Your brain produces a hormone called melatonin during dark periods which helps your body get ready for sleep and makes you feel tired. However, people with SAD produce far higher levels of melatonin during winter. The lighter weather of the summer helps regulate melatonin levels to a balanced level and the change in seasons can detrimentally unbalance this equilibrium for sufferers.
Did COVID accentuate symptoms of SAD or will it mitigate the severity of the condition?
Lockdown essentially forced people to change their lifestyle and SAD sufferers may have found it easier to talk to relatives about how they felt.
We keep getting told that talking helps but the crux of the issue is whether talking will be met with impassiveness. Here, it created an inescapable relatability where everyone had to deal with being indoors, with the negative thoughts brought on by isolating and feelings of sadness. Even though the family member didn’t have the severity of SAD, they could have some understanding and relatability, which unfortunately in many situations, is not a given.
The flip side is that the worst of the lockdown was the feeling of being stuck inside. That unwavering message of ‘stay home to save lives’ which seemed to reverberate from the television on every news bulletin. Of course this was a deterrent to the spreading of the virus but it caused problems for people’s mental health and reaffirmed an association with everything being shut during the darker nights. The mind will then again associate this time with sadness, causing a heightened response to the ever darker nights.
The circadian rhythm describes the physical, mental and behavioural changes in the body that follow a 24 hour cycle. In relation to SAD, the lack of sunlight in the winter months can lead to low mood and depression.
Bright light therapy is a good tool for rectifying this and works from the exposure of artificial light via a SAD lamp. In doing so, a person’s circadian rhythm is kept on track. The devices emit light that mimics natural sunshine.
Mental health groups are a good way of getting out of the house and channelling that energy with people who can support. It doesn’t even have to be a mental health group – exercising at the gym will release endorphins and if you can make this a routine, the hour you spend there will help relieve the darkness of SAD. I understand that this can be a step too far when you feel devoid of any energy but ‘’small steps’’ such as going to meet a friend, can help. Don’t beat yourself up if this isn’t possible and accepting the condition is part of managing it. ‘’I might not be able to do anything today but tomorrow or the day after, I will’’.
By David James copyright 2021