In the past week, we’ve most definitely moved from summer into autumn and can feel that an icy winter is just around the corner. Gone are the bright mornings and long balmy evenings and in the distance comes a whiff of cinnamon and what sounds suspiciously like a Christmas carol . . .
While most of us expect to experience the winter blues and feel a little less cheery and energetic, some people suffer more than most with a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. And SAD is not a small problem. It’s thought to affect some 2 million people in the UK and Ireland.
In this blog post, I’ll be looking at some of the symptoms and causes. Most importantly, what you can do to help brighten your mood through the coming winter months, and stop it having a negative impact on your ability to give your business the energy it deserves.
From September all the way through to May, some people find it hard to go about daily life. Symptoms of SAD vary from one individual to the next and can disappear quickly or gradually with seasonal change but there are 5 common symptoms:
1. You have difficulty completing routine tasks that you previously found easy. Things like calling clients back, reaching out to new prospects, routine accounting, simple shopping and household chores, or finishing projects that only require a few simple steps to complete.
2. You feel depressed and despondent more often than not, and for no apparent reason.
3. You find it hard to get up in the morning and stay awake during the day, but at the same time also have disturbed nights.
4. You crave carbohydrates and sweet foods much more than usual and your eating habits have changed.
5. You feel irritable and unsociable, and find yourself withdrawing from physical contact in all areas of your life.
We still don’t know exactly what causes SAD but we do know that the effects of light have a lot to do with it. Many scientists believe this is due to big work/life changes in our recent history as humans, stimulated by the discovery of electricity. We now spend 80% of our time inside in the west and yet the expectations our bodies have accumulated through evolution is the reverse. When we are outside during the winter, we tend to be going to and from work in the dark. This is particularly so in countries like the UK and Ireland, which are situated at higher latitudes.
When we’re indoors, we simply simulate the sun at any time of the day through electric lights. This has a big impact on our daily rhythms by changing the timings of cues that we normally get from the sun.
Our daily rhythms (also known as Circadian rhythms) help to regulate many bodily functions. By changing these, we’re essentially sending signals at incorrect times to help regulate and control things like digestion, appetite, sleep and mood. For example, a lack of light reduces Serotonin, which causes depression and a lack of light also causes an increase in Melatonin, which makes us sleepy at night.
What you can do to beat the winter blues
Previously, SAD was treated by medication, which helped people cope better but didn’t treat the symptoms. Now research has shown that sufferers respond well to Light Therapy, and that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can even stop symptoms returning the following year.
Here are some other top tips to beating the winter blues this year:
- Exercise: time and time again research proves the enormous benefit of regular exercise. It not only raises your self-esteem but also boosts feel-good hormones. Group exercise could be even more beneficial because of the social impact.
- Plan ahead: if you know you suffer from the winter blues, avoid and reduce stress by moving big tasks or important business events to sunnier months. You can also prepare in advance for winter by buying Xmas presents early, stocking up your cupboards and registering yourself on a group course to make sure you get out and about.
- Treat yourself: scatter pleasures throughout the winter months to give yourself things to look forward to and associate this time of year with treats.
- Go outside: make the most of natural light during the day by going outside and opening curtains. Most of us can easily manage a 10-minute walk during the day and build a habit into our daily routines.
- Eat well: try to balance carbohydrate and sweet cravings with fresh fruit and vegetables, and have healthy snacks on hand to satisfy them.
- Buy a light box. These have about 10 times the intensity of a normal household light and are available in different strengths and sizes. How much time you spend next to it will vary and you should make sure you consult a doctor/medical practitioner if you have an eye problem, are particularly sensitive to light or are/have been taking antidepressants or medication against epilepsy. In all cases, you should always consult our doctor for the diagnosis of SAD. Since some people do experience side effects, it’s well worth trying to get a free trial before committing to a purchase. And, remember, using it before you go to bed may not be the best idea! You can find lots more information on these and SAD at www.sad.org.uk or www.sada.org.uk
However, before you consider yourself SAD, I would ask yourself whether you actually just have a general dislike of the cold? If so, the solution might be as simple as wearing the right clothes and going for substance over style . . . I may have chunky boots, big woollen mittens and hat hair but I’ll be smiling!