Niall Sweeney

Winter is here. And not just in the land of Westeros. The dip in temperature has many of us reaching for the Irish staple that is the immersion. Commuters are rising from the dark and coming home in same. Clocks are set back an hour, with added precious time in bed, but with the trade off that it’s pitch black at 5pm. One can feel that the day is gone once the light leaves us. The sharp transition of summer’s heat and evening stretches to this cold climate can be hard to swallow for many of us. This where SAD sets in.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological condition, affecting 1 in 15, which sees a spike in depressive symptoms with the changing of the seasons, especially in winter. It is often lumped in with a simple case of winter blues, and it’s merits have been doubted in recent research. It was suggested that the winter months are not a cause in itself for depression. It could even be a myth, according to a US study.

Still, the condition has seen mainstream acknowledgment in the medical field since the 1980s. Symptoms can include lethargy, robbing you of the drive to get that assignment sown up in time, or keep up the morning jog.  Sufferers also report feelings of despair, the darkness manifesting itself into the psyche. The brains needs serotonin to get us into a good place, and sunlight helps towards this. Take that away, and…

The body’s circadian rhythm, or clock,  is all out of wack as a result of the sudden change. The working/studying day takes all you’ve got in you (shift work!), with little to spare for other activities  Turning to food, particularly carbohydrates, is a common element. That jog is needed more than ever to burn it all off, but you can’t manage that. Vicious cycle.

A cruel irony presents itself – carbs are meant to help you sleep, but insomnia can keep you up, because….SAD.

You may feel added pressure to be ”jolly ” with Christmas on the horizon, and being bombarded with festive imagery by the media can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your attitude towards the whole thing.

So what to do when you’re in such a rut? Winter isn’t going away, the days are dragging yet flying along. You have to ride it out (heh?!). Here’s how.

Brain Food

Nuts, seeds, fish ( I should branch out beyond fish fingers) are all good sources of Vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, lessening the blow of SAD and getting that serotonin back where it should be. Berries are rich in cortisol, a chemical responsible for memory and emotions.

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Don’t ditch carbs completely. Have porridge in the morning, toss in some nuts and berries for a good start. Popcorn and shredded wheat are good snacks too.

Fight dark with… dark. Dark chocolate produces phenylalanine, a pain inhibitor in the body as well as helping with dopamine production, the happy hormone.

Light up

Not the cigs…or the vapes!  With less natural light around us, light boxes are a viable option. The boxes are designed to mimic outdoor light, giving us what we’re missing naturally. They are a form of light therapy encouraged by professionals. When choosing , and using a box, there are factors to consider.

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It be must be designed specifically to treat SAD to be truly effective.  It should typically be used within an hour of waking up in the morning, for 20 to 30 minutes, looking away from the light. It should produce up to 10,000 lux.

They can be sought out online, in the hundred euro range,  if you have the budget to spare.

Talk

A form of therapy in itself, a conversation with a friend or family gets a lot out into the open. especially if you feel your SAD is coinciding with a more serious depression. Easier said than done, says you.If you don’t feel ready to verbalize how you’re feeling just yet, write. It’s a valid form of expression in which you can be as honest as you like. You may then work your way up to confiding in another person, perhaps a counselor if it seems too personal to share.

CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, can be applied to SAD. It’s about getting to the why, the root cause of your condition, such as negative thought patterns. This may or may not be an option financially, do a good search before settling on one.

 

I didn’t list exercise, as these things are meant to motivate you onto that. Think of them as stepping stones – have the fruity porridge so you can jog. I would recommend buying some exercise equipment if you’ve money and room. An exercise bike is handy as you don’t have to head out in the cold, while still getting a workout. So by all means, get moving too.

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If you find your overall sense of well-being takes a particular turn for the worst in the winter months, you may want to examine that, to get a sense of whats really going on. I hope I’ve been helpful. Look after yourselves.

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