It’s that time of year again as the nights draw in and the clocks come forward an hour. We will be preparing for longer nights and shorter days. Many of us take this seasonal change in our stride but 15% of us suffer terribly with the condition otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. The hormone melatonin is produced by the pineal gland at night and it aids sleep, natural sunlight suppresses the production of melatonin and improves immune function. Therefore, during the winter months when natural sunlight is at its lowest SAD can occur.
For many people SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment. For others, 1 in 50, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing tiredness, lethargy, sleep and eating problems. It is commonly known as “the winter blues”.
Symptoms of SAD
Many of people are puzzled year after year when every winter they seem to feel tired, lethargic, and suffer a loss of enthusiasm or energy. A great deal of those people do not realize that they are experiencing the symptoms are SAD, instead they believe that it is the feeling of the lazy days of summer disappearing and the grey days winter are approaching.
The main recognisable symptoms of SAD are the following:
- Sleep problems, with sometimes a desire to oversleep, or alternatively a trouble in sleeping with disturbed sleep and early morning awakening.
- Lack of energy and a feeling of fatigue affecting normal daily functioning.
- Weight gain and overeating. This involves a craving for carbohydrates like bread and potatoes and a craving for sweet foods and junk food.
- Feelings of gloom or depression, guilt and a loss of self esteem or interest in normal activities.
- A lack of interest in going out and socializing. Deliberately avoiding social contact with friends and family.
- Feelings of anxiousness, stress and irritability. A general lack of patience.
- Low sex drive and physical contact with their partner.
- Extreme mood changes, with sufferers literally surfing a wave of emotional changes many times a day.
How Can We Overcome SAD Syndrome?
Firstly visit your GP. This should always be your first option as your GP will always be able to check your symptoms in order to confirm SAD and recommend all the appropriate treatments and medical options.
By exposing patients to very bright light (at least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting) for up to four hours per day (average 1-2 hours) light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 per cent of diagnosed cases.
Some light boxes emit higher intensity of light, up to 10,000 Lux, which can cut treatment time down to half an hour a day. Light boxes have to be bought from specialist retailers and are priced around £100
It is important to understand light is measured by what we call Lux. To get this in perspective a candle gives out 1 Lux, a household light bulb 350 Lux, and the sun in the summer gives out 100,000 Lux. Even on a winters afternoon the winter sun can give out as much as 30,000 Lux. Have you ever wondered why you feel better when the sun shines?
Psychotherapy, counseling or any complementary therapy which helps the sufferer to relax, accept their illness and cope with its limitations are extremely useful.
Integrated mind therapies, inclusive of Neuro Linguistic Programming, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Hypnotherapy have also proven to be very effective.
Five further Steps to being free from S.A.D
- Ensure you walk for a minimum of one and a half hours outside every day. This could be to work or school or even during your lunch breaks. Even in the winter you can be exposed of up to 30,000lux. Get and stay outside as regular and often as you can
- Keep the wearing of sunglasses to a minimum but do not stare at the sun.
- Ensure you have a weekly exercise program. Ensure you include a minimum of 4 weekly cardio vascular activities.
- Be conscious of your diet and ensure you keep carbohydrates to a minimum, eating balanced meals every day with fruit, vegetables and grains such as brown rice. Avoid refined sugar as this can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels which can greatly affect your mood. By eating healthily you can maintain a healthy gut, also known as the second brain, for its serotonin producing capabilites.
- A mixture of vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D3, 5HTP and a vitamin B complex may help to create a natural serotonin boost and raise our mood naturally. Always obtain health supplements from a registered Nutritional Therapist after a consultation. Some other medications like antidepressants can contraindicate supplements such as 5HTP and can cause more damage than good so it is important to speak to a specialist first.
To summarise, get outside in the sunshine as much as possible as it will drive your endorphin production (the bodies natural opiates) which in turn combats adrenaline and reduces mood related problems. You will get your light relief and mood relief twice from two different external factors.
Visit the Life Practice Nutrition website for further details about our Registered Nutritional Therapist and services offered.
Visit the Life Practice main website for information on our Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, NLP and Life Coaching services