It's that time of year again. That time when you wake up, blink, and it's four o clock with the sun going fast behind dark clouds. The shorter days and long nights can be a difficult adjustment for many, with an increasing awareness of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), otherwise known as the winter blues, amongst doctors and healthcare professionals.
Symptoms of SAD are, as the acronym unashamedly suggests, similar to that of depression. Low mood, feeling unmotivated and a lack of interest in fun activities are all signs of SAD. However, it doesn't take a diagnosis to realise that many feel at least mild symptoms to this effect. The cold makes us crave fattier, more filling foods and our bodies slow down with the weather, we go into hibernation, seeking warmth in inactivity and a fluffy blanket.
Find out more about SAD here.
We don't need to iterate that a lack of exercise affects our mood and mental health, as well as our physical wellbeing; digestion, blood circulation, metabolism, brain function. So it is hardly surprising that when we find ourselves in a season where we wake up in the cold and dark, and commute home in the cold and dark, that everything starts to feel a little out of kilter, if not extremely so for some.
Panel member, health and wellness coach, Jessica Joan, has been experiencing SAD for years, and has learnt to manage her symptoms in a variety of ways.
'My first experience of SAD was back at school in sixth form. I didn’t know it at the time, and I didn’t know it for about another ten years after that initial experience.'
'How I look after myself during these dark, cold months involves a lot of self-care! The one thing that has been an absolute game-changer for me is a Lumie light. You can set it to gradually light up your room in the morning so that when it is time to wake up, you’re waking up to a nice bright room instead of utter darkness. Make sure you get to bed at a decent time the night before, so that you feel well rested when your Lumie starts to light up.'
The change in natural light is considerable as we enter November in the UK, which has been shown to link closely with SAD symptoms. An article from Time has outlined a study whereby people were found to produce much more serotonin (that familiar happy hormone) on a sunny day, compared to a cloudy one, irrespective of temperature. Many similar studies just go to show how important sunlight can be to our mood, so if an artificial "SAD" lamp is not an option for you, then try working by a big window as much as possible, or taking a stretch outside on your lunch break (even if it is a bit wet!).
Panel member and naturopath and energy healer Britta Hochkeppel suggests that winter is a great time to look after ourselves.
'Winter can be used to reflect, replenish and reset our energy levels. Everything that stimulates our master purification organ, the liver, will help us feel alert and fresh and keep our brain cells healthy. It is great for treating “brain-fog” in the darker months, and in general. You can blend your favourite cabbages and root vegetables to flood your body with nutrients and vitamins, and I drink this first thing in the morning to keep me feeling energised.'
In the same way that we use the summer months to come out of our shells - to be more active, to travel and gain traction on new ventures - the winter months offer up an opportunity to nurture ourselves.
Instead of adding to the stress on yourself by forcing a miserable run, try some gentle yoga at home or an online dance class. Exercise is important, but doesn't need to be gruelling, especially if your body is crying out for comfort during the winter.
In essence, with more time spent at home in the darker months (and the added joys of lockdown) presents us with the chance to be quiet with ourselves and really tune into what it is we need. Acceptance is something that many of us have had to learn to do this year. In the same way, we must accept where we are this winter and do whatever we need for ourselves to feel our best. If your best this evening feels like curling up on the sofa to watch re-runs and eat cake, then that's okay - accept it as one of winter's many gifts (albeit in a rainy disguise).