As the days get darker, and shorter, seasonal affective disorder starts to manifest within the minds of many. While winter is usually attributed to Christmas, holidays, celebrations and cosy blanket with a movie evenings; something as soul draining as SAD needs to be spoken up about and shared.
In this post, I will be outlining these main points:
- What seasonal affective disorder is.
- Some theories as to what causes it.
- Effective and proven coping methods.
- Light therapy, what it is, how it helps and a recommendation of the top light boxes on the market (sponsored section).
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD or Seasonal Depressive Episodes, is a type of depression which only happens in a specific season. It is mostly experienced in winter or the colder seasons, but it can absolutely take place in summer or spring (known as reverse SAD). However, for SAD to be properly diagnosed, it needs to be experienced for two consecutive years, in the same season.
What Causes SAD?
A range of reasons. Many of which haven’t been discovered yet, as just like every form of depression, research is always ongoing. However there are a few theories, and a substantial amount of evidence to back each theory up, which I will share.
- Serotonin The Super Neurotransmitter
Simply put, it is a chemical created by our brains which causes ‘feel good emotions’ and wakefulness. When our body perceives sunlight, it increases the production of serotonin. But with the decrease of sunlight in winter, our brains create less serotonin, therefore causing us to feel tired and less energised.
2. Melatonin The Super Hormone
This hormone is basically in charge of our circadian cycle which is our sleep cycle. Now as explained above with our brain perceiving sunlight and serotonin increasing – this is also when melatonin decreases. It is gradually released as the day gets darker, and is at its peak when we are at our deepest sleeping state at night. As morning progresses, the melatonin decreases. However, this perfect equilibrium can become jumbled up during winter because it’s darker for longer, which confuses our circadian cycle, therefore tricking our poor brain into creating melatonin way too early on in the day, and thus resulting in us feeling tired and lacking energy during day light hours. This can also cause a havoc with our sleeping routine, as feeling tired during the day can cause some of us to oversleep, or stay in bed all day; causing us to then struggle to sleep at night. Yes what an absolute dilemma!
So you can understand, why a decrease of serotonin, a increase of melatonin, and a confused circadian cycle can cause total chaos for our minds and bodies. All this leaves us feeling:
- Sad and feeling down.
- Tired and lacking energy.
- Mentally slow.
This is known as the winter blues. It sucks, but it isn’t debilitating or overwhelming. When is it however, depression? A more serious and complicated condition than the winter blues.
Take a look at this checklist and mentally check off all the symptoms you’re experiencing. I’m not a doctor, but if you’re experiencing more than five, especially the ones marked with an asterisk*, then I highly advise for you to visit your doctor and get checked for SAD.
The symptoms of SAD are:
- Feeling sad, empty and tearful without a exact reason.*
- Feelings of hopelessness.*
- A feeling of dread when you wake up and it’s dark.*
- A sudden loss of enjoyment in your hobbies.
- Reclusiveness and a desire to be alone all the time. *
- A lack of energy, drive and productivity.
- Feeling tired and exhausted all the time.*
- Oversleeping. Struggling to wake up early even if you’ve slept early.
- Insomnia or broken sleep patterns.
- An increased or decreased appetite.
- Anxiety when you have to go outside.*
- Feeling irritable and losing your temper quick – which is normally unlike you.*
- Feeling ‘foggy headed’. Being overly forgetful and having trouble concentrating or focusing on things.*
- Feelings of apathy and indifference, which is commonly described as ‘feeling numb’.*
- A decreased reaction time, and feeling mentally slow in understanding basic things such as simple instructions. This is intertwined with feeling foggy headed.*
- Passion and motivation fizzles out. You feel burned out. The former and latter are replaced with over procrastination and feeling lost.
Exercise is always beneficial. But with SAD and depression in general, the benefits are so effective that all mental health professionals recommend implementing it daily. Exercise such as cardio, even if it’s light cardio like walking and jogging, or strength training such as using weights, are proven to increase the amount of serotonin, the feel good chemical our brain creates that I mentioned earlier. It also revitalises and energises us on both a mental and physical scale. So it’s a win win.
Tip: With SAD specifically, try to wake up early and expose yourself to daylight with a walk, a jog, or even travelling to the gym for a quick workout.
Consuming plenty of fruit and veggies is a no brainer for a healthy mind and body, as they’re enriched with the vitamins and minerals that our body needs and craves. Increase your daily intake of food that are high in vitamins b12, and vitamin D, as there is proven evidence to suggest that the symptoms of SAD increase when we are deficient or lacking in these. Bananas, eggs, dairy foods, leafy greens, cold water fish (mackerel, sardine and tuna) are all foods you should increase your intake of in winter.
Introverts will hate me for saying this, but we are social creatures that need social interaction. Depriving yourself from that, especially when you’re harbouring emotions such as sadness and hopelessness, will cause you to further lose yourself and spiral downwards. Genuine love, empathy, humour, acceptance and physical displays of affection are literally food for our hearts. Our five senses are stimulated and our emotions are awakened, which are two things that will kick depression in the butt. Try to spend some time with friends and family everyday, or atleast every other day. Phone conversations and video calls count too. Texting and messaging do not! And if it helps to know, then I am an introvert too.
Create A Journal
I’ve mentioned the benefits of keeping a journal in a previous post. Journaling your thoughts and feelings each day will not only help you release your pent up emotions, but with time you will also be able to track patterns, triggers, and things that make your SAD worse/better. Get a diary and write down everything you feel everyday, whether it be each night, or throughout the day. And then look back on it at the end of each week to see what you notice.
Don’t Let Go of Hobbies
Hobbies are life! They switch on the passion, the lightheartedness of our soul, and the peace within us that this world otherwise crushes. Even if you really don’t feel like it, force yourself to pursue your hobbies. Whether it’s a sport, art, poetry or reading, whatever it may be, carry on. Hobbies are a perfect form of distraction, and just like journaling, an ideal method of using suppressed negative and positive energy in a creative and practical way.
Whatever activity you’re doing, do it mindfully. Whether it’s cooking, having a bubble bath or playing with your pet, put all your focus and concentration into it. Forget about everything else and just feel the moment. The point of it? You’re not doing one thing while thinking about ten other things. You’re not regretting the past while stressing about the future. You’re living in the present, in the now, focusing and fully enjoying whatever it is that you are doing RIGHT NOW. In fact, I say practice mindfulness while treating yourself in doing something that you love.
There has been research to support the use of light therapy to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD. How light therapy works is the use of specially made medically approved lamps that emit light of 10,000 lux. Lux is the unit to measure light. And 10,000 lux is the closest replication to natural sunlight. The lamps can be used at home or at work, and ideally should be used in the morning or earlier afternoon, as using them too late in the day can have the opposite effect of energising you when you should actually be feeling tired, therefore disrupting your sleep and sleep patterns. It is also advisable to consult your optometrist and get their advice as anyone with macular degeneration, or has a family history of it, should avoid using the lamps. This also applies if you are photophobic (light sensitive).
However, hundreds of people worldwide have asserted to the fact that light lamps have helped their SAD symptoms a great deal, making them feel more energised, more focused, much less depressed and anxious.
Now when choosing a light lamp, there are a few things to consider and be aware of:
- Light lamps should not be confused with dawn simulator lamps. Light lamps are medically proven light treatment devices that have 10,000 lux units- this is the unit that best replicates sunlight. Dawn simulators are lamps that emit light which gently wakes you up from sleep. They intend to replicate the sunrise, but they are NOT 10,000 lux. They can be used with or without an alarm and can also have an additional sunset feature to help aid falling sleep. Dawn simulator lamps are excellent in their own way, but they are not SAD light lamps and they will not cure SAD. That being said, recently there are SAD lamps on the market, with a dawn simulator feature included.
- Be wary of misleading marketing claiming full spectrum bulbs or daylight bulbs are SAD light lamps. These lights may emit a pleasant bright light and give better visual sharpness, but they will do nothing for the SAD. When looking for light lamps, remember that it has to have a minimum lux unit of 10,000. Anything below that is NOT a medically proven light therapy light.
- When looking for SAD light lamps, you’ll come across two types: the light bulb ranges, and the LED light ranges. Don’t worry about which one to choose or which is better. They are both equally effective. The LED light range is just the more recent type of lights created, while the traditional bulb range is the older style.
- White light vs Blue light. When we see sunshine, we think that it’s just white light. However, sunlight is made up of a spectrum of colours. We can notice this when it shines through rain and causes a rainbow. Now, research tells us that blue light is just as beneficial and effective as white light, and you can get SAD blue light lamps. It is actually recommended to experiment and make use of both types of lamps to treat SAD. So look out for both types when looking for one to purchase.
The Most Trusted Light Therapy Lamps On The Market (click on the links to be taken to the product page!)
- The Lumie Arabica Seasonal Affective Lamp
- Beurer TL40 Daylight Lamp
- Lumie Zest
- Redstone SAD Box
- Lumie Brazil
- Lumie Desklamp
- Beurer TL30UK Portable SAD Lamp
- Full Spectrum Lighting Litepod
- Phillips H3420/03 Intense Blue Energy Up
SAD is exhausting. It affects us on a physical, mental and emotional level, and causes so many hinderences in our quality of life and day to day activities. But following all the advice and recommendations on this post will help you immensely. If you have tips of your own or would like to share your story, please do comment and share it below. I will share some of your comments (of course with your permission beforehand) on my instagram page to help spread awareness of SAD.
Lots of love!
Note: The sponsored section are products that are genuine with many positive reviews and comments. I would never include anything that isn’t trusted, or that I’m not confident in.