Hands up who feels a bit low and drained this time of year? Colds are doing the rounds and this year we have Covid 19 to factor in the mix. It can be easy to feel a bit low when the weather gets cooler and the nights draw in but there are some simple changes you can make to help to alleviate any sad or low feelings you might be experiencing.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Sometimes referred to as SAD, can affect up to 1 in 3 people in the UK. SAD is seasonal depression and has been linked to changes in light outside, for example, when the nights start to draw in and it becomes darker earlier each night. It can also affect some people in the Summer but the switch to Autumn in Winter is more commonly referred to when talking about SAD.The end of the Summer can also represent endings for many other events, for example, Summer holidays, the end of the School holidays, etc and these events can cause us all to feel a bit gloomy. SAD can cause depression ranging from mild to debilitating, for months at a time.
The good news is that SAD can be treated, often with a light box, outdoor activity, and sometimes with medication, if you feel you need that. If you feel that your mood shifts each year when Autumn is looming, then SAD could be the reason why.
Time changing when the clocks go back
October signals the advent of the clocks going back, which means we get an extra hour but it's usually an extra hour of darkness. Ongoing research is increasingly uncovering reasons why losing this hour can affect both physical and mental health. For parents, it can mean a disruption in their child’s routine that requires getting up earlier. For everyone, it means more daytime darkness. This is a risk factor for depression in people with seasonal affective disorder. It can also decrease access to vitamin D, a primary source of which is sunlight and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression.
Losing an hour means spending less time in natural sunlight. Cold weather can exacerbate this effect. This can increase the risk of depression, and can also alter circadian rhythms. The cold dark winter months can make some of feel more tired and less optimistic, even when we’re not depressed. For some, the lack of adequate daylight may alter their food intake and hunger level. Cold weather can make us crave comfort foods that are usually laden with calories and our bodies are not on show as much in the Winter, so our diets may slip a bit.
Holidays are coming
The holiday season will soon be upon us. Halloween, Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, New Years eve, they are all big holiday events and they all happen in the Winter. Holidays shoudl be fun and for most of us, they are but they can also be an anxious time for some of us. Not everyone has a loving family, or gets on with their families and this year we all have the added strain of Covid 19 and how celebrations need to be managed in a different way this year. For some, the holiday season means going home to abusive parents or siblings, or deciding whether to spend time with unkind in-laws. Holidays can trigger painful family memories and just the pressure of being happy can affect some of us. All of these feelings can trigger a mood change in some of us so try to be kind to others if you notice they are struggling. And if you're the person struggling, then reach out to your friends if you can, or professional help if you feel ok with that.
So how can we manage the change in seasons?
Seasonal changes don't always have to signal an increase in stress. It can be a product of the way many of us choose to live in the modern world This means it’s changeable. For people overwhelmed by seasonal affective disorder, painful stress, or family conflict, therapy can be a powerful aid. There are some other strategies that can help you make it through:
Making a list of priorities for the season, learn to say no and don’t give into pressure. Stay true to yourself and think about your stress levels, think about what's best for you.
Getting access to plenty of natural light by spending some time outside, preferably exercising if you can, or sitting under a sun lamp.
Maintaining a regular sleeping schedule, even when cold temperatures tempt you to sleep in.
Taking care of your body. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, at least five days per week. Eat plenty of healthy foods and get enough sleep. A good. nights sleep can cure a number of aches and pains. Our bodies need nutrition and good sleep to function properly. Take care and enjoy the months ahead x
Even if every seasonal change in years past has been difficult for you, this one can be better. Take time to protect your mental health and watch the transition to autumn and winter become your favorite time of year.