The nights are drawing in and I am already noticing how much more difficult it is to get up in the morning. I have my weapon against miserable start-ups though, which I'll go into later.
Most of us are aware of the existence of SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder, although I suspect that more people suffer from it than are actually aware of it.
The symptoms of SAD, according to SADA - The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association website (click on link to read more):
- Sleep Problems
- Over Eating
- Loss of Concentration
- Social Problems
- Loss of Libido
- Mood Changes
About 10 years ago I noticed that although I enjoyed the idea of winter, roasts, fires, snuggly clothes, cosy nights in etc, the reality of the lack of daylight really got to me, on a physical level as well as mood-wise and by Christmas I would feel quite dreadful. I originally thought that maybe I had hang-ups about Christmas, and yes, the frittering of large amounts of cash for a load of c**p does sicken me slightly...but the idea of a mid-winter celebration to cheer up the depths of winter sounds marvellous....in theory. So why did I feel so grumpy?
As the years passed by I noticed that I was desperately craving light in the winter and would avoid darkened rooms - they made me feel agitated. On gloomy, mid-winter days, I felt almost suffocated by the darkness descending around 4pm. I became appreciative of the fact that trees lost their leaves so that a bit more sunlight could reach me.
About 5 years ago this self-diagnosed SAD came to a head. I noticed that every winter I was becoming more and more antisocial, that I was struggling very hard to get out of bed in the mornings - it felt like torture. My appetite was affected and my activity levels slumped. Whilst I think a certain amount of adjusting to the winter season is inevitable, I found myself spending nearly half the year feeling low and increasingly anxious.
The Magical SAD Lamp
I researched the topic, on the internet and from books from the library. I decided that I should try a SAD lamp and spent hours looking into which would work best for me, or, indeed, work at all.
I settled on the Litebook as it's small size and portability appealed. It is so powerful that you only need to use it for 15 minutes a day to feel the benefit. The slight downside is that you are advised to use it from September to gain full advantage, and use it until April. I bought mine in November so didn't get to feel the full benefits the first year, although it did help me to feel more awake and I noticed a big reduction in my SAD symptoms. The following winter I was even better, significantly better than I'd been in years and even arranged a birthday party for the first time in a very long time (my birthday is at the end of January, a time when I used to be at my peak of misery).
I use my lamp for 20-30 minutes in the morning before getting up. I read or check emails while lying there with the light shining towards my face. By the time the session is over I feel ready to get out of bed. More ready, anyway.
Sometimes, especially if I have an busy evening planned, I will use the lamp again late afternoon to give me a boost. A secondary use for the Litebook is for jetlag and I can confirm that it can be effective in helping if you suffer with that. I use it in conjunction with melatonin supplements, which you cannot buy in the UK, but American drugstores have loads of the stuff.
Other things to help enjoy winter:
I wear warm, woollen clothes and (fake) fur-lined boots on cold days and thermal underlayers if needs be. Also, I'm not as stingy with the heating as I was brought up to be.
I try and keep to my usual, reasonably healthy diet which includes lots of salads, vegetables and fruit. Once I start going down the quick-burn carbs route I find it hard to get out of the cycle.
The levels of exercise are not as high as during the summer months but I make sure I do something. Any sunny days I try and get out for long walks meaning I get more precious light hitting my retina.
I have yet to be in a position to be able to do this, but due to current commitments I cannot jet off for a week's sunshine to get a boost. If I could, I definitely would.
The NHS suggest that counselling or psychotherapy can be useful in alleviating the symptoms of SAD and I can confirm that I personally found some benefit in having counselling several years ago when I thought that there was something wrong with me; when I felt rather ashamed and somehow feeble for having SAD. Suffering with SAD may exacerbate existing issues with relating to others and with one's self-worth. Counselling can help you with these difficulties.
Here is a useful link with more information on SAD from the NHS website:
AMANDA WILLIAMSON Reg MBACP
COUNSELLING IN EXETER