I have suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder for as long as I can remember but for many years I was totally unaware of what was going on. Like my Mum I have been plagued by mental health issues since my teens. Low Self Esteem, Depression, Anxiety… all to varying degrees of severity. The first time I became truly aware of any problems was when I suffered from Post Natal Depression following the birth of my first child. It was a work colleague who noticed a change in my behaviour and mood, she mentioned it to our company doctor who then called me in for a chat and it all came tumbling out. I was signed off work for 4 weeks and put on anti-depressants. I don’t like taking medication at the best of time, so I didn’t stick with the medication, but just being aware that something was going on helped a little. I felt low for several months but eventually my mojo returned. This cycle of feeling low and then feeling good continued but I really didn’t associate it with the seasons at that time. It is funny now, looking back, because I always used to say my “lucky” time of the year was April to August. This was when life always seemed to deal me the Ace. I met my husband in May and looking at my CV all but one of my successful job interviews have been between April and July. I was totally unaware of the relevance of this until years later.
It was actually about 12 years ago when it became more noticeable. I had a period in my life where I was working in a very stressful environment and my depression became quite bad. I was also suffering from IBS which got worse during the Winter months. I felt physically ill most of the time. For three years in a row I went to my doctor complaining of extreme tiredness, aching limbs, coughs, colds and even recurring tonsillitis. Each time he took full bloods and they came back showing that I was perfectly healthy. I was lucky at the time to still have my family doctor, he had been my mums doctor and had known me since birth so knew my medical history inside out. The third year I went to see him with exactly the same symptoms as the year before he diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder. Just another form of depression caused by a reduction in Serotonin levels during the months where there is less sunlight. Suddenly everything made sense and I started to see a pattern.
Once I had a diagnosis it made life easier. I am the type of person who researches and tries to find ways that I can help myself overcome issues. I am one of life’s Problem Solvers. I did this for my Seasonal Affective Disorder and tried many different ways to help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Some worked, some didn’t. It has been years of trial and error. And some years are definitely worse than others. But i do think I have finally found a few simple things that help me get through those dark 5 months. For me the onset of my S.A.D is a little like flicking a light switch. I know exactly when it is going to start and end. The day the clocks go back in October is the beginning and the day after the clocks go back in March is the end. Knowing this does help me maintain a little element of positivity during the Winter. Because it doesn’t matter how bad my symptoms are I do know there will be an end date.
If you think you suffer, even just a little bit, I have some tips that may help you. Everyone is different though so they may not work for all of you. But anything is worth a try !! My biggest tip is to plan ahead. I start getting into a routine in September. Particularly with health and fitness and taking of supplements as these need a little time to get into your system.
I know it is hard to find the motivation to get outside when you are feeling low and it is cold, wet and windy. But it really is the best medicine for sufferers of S.A.D. And it is free. 10 mins in the middle of the day is all you need. I was the worlds worst at taking this advice in previous years. I worked in an office in London and hardly ever took a proper lunch break so never ventured outside between the hours of 8am and 6pm. I can honestly say that those years were some of the worst for my mood. Last year I moved out of London and started working in a school. I pop outside every lunchtime to check on lunch staff and what is going on in the playground. I get my 10 mins of daylight every day and despite having a more demanding and stressful job last Winter I suffered far less than I have for many years.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
You will crave sugary and carb laden food. Particularly, if you are feeling low but this is not going to make you feel better. I know from past experiences. I used to eat very differently during Summer and Winter months and cold nights would mean lots of potatoes, pasta, puddings and chocolate. But the extra lbs this added made me feel sluggish and depressed, when my clothes were tight. Now I tend to eat the same all year round. And yes people do think I am a little mad when I rock up to work with a salad for lunch in the middle of December. But all that spinach and raw veg with a tin of tuna keeps my Vitamin D levels topped up and my weight down.
When you feel low this is the last thing you want to do. I usually exercise every morning, before work. I find it harder to do this in the Winter months when it is dark and cold when I get up. So I change things around a little. I reduce my morning workouts from five to just two and I add a longer gym visit at the weekend. If I try to maintain the same level of workouts as the Summer months I fail and that feeling of failure fuels my depression and then I end up doing nothing. So It is better to do something than nothing at all. My morning workouts will usually consist of a 15 min HIIT session. They are fast, warm me up and are over and done with quickly. I know I can maintain this. Sometimes if I am having a good week I manage three morning sessions. On a Saturday morning I head to the gym with my husband. We make a morning of it. I will either take a class (box fit or circuits) or spend 30 mins lifting weights and then finish with 5-10 mins on the treadmill. It helps having someone to go with. After the gym we walk into a Village Centre for coffee and breakfast at a lovely little cafe. By doing this it becomes a bit of a treat rather than a chore. And the 10 min walk there and back gets me outside too.
Due to having already gone through early menopause there are several supplements I take all year round now. These are the same ones I used to take just in the Winter months and ones that I would recommend if you suffer from S.A.D. Start taking them in September.
Vitamin D – I take mine with Calcium every night to try and protect myself from Osteoporosis but this is honestly the best supplement you can take to help elevate the severity of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Vitamin B12 – I don’t think everyone needs to take this. I think it is more beneficial for women who are also going through the menopause. I only started taking this supplement in the last 12 months and it has been a godsend. It really helps me concentrate and I have more energy and in my job I really can’t afford to be feeling tired.
Magnesium – This is a great supplement if you are struggling to get a good nights sleep. Take about an hour before bedtime. One downside that I find is that Magnesium can dehydrate me. So I always make sure I drink plenty of water during the day and also have a bottle of water on my bedside table to drink first thing in the morning. If you don’t want to take the supplement you can use Epsom Salts (which contain Magnesium) in a hot bath. Soak for about 20 mins for best effect.
I have a SAD light that I bought from Argos about 10 years ago. It cost about £50 at the time (similar here). I put it on my dressing table from September through to March. I pop it on in the mornings when I am getting ready for work. I also have a couple of full spectrum Daylight light bulbs that I put in my bedroom and lounge lamps during the Winter (purchased from Amazon). Do they help? I think there are some benefits but only when combined with the other things mentioned above.
We have not taken our main holiday in the Summer for years now. Most years we take a week long holiday abroad, somewhere sunny, over the Christmas period. I really notice the difference in my symptoms when we have been away. The Algarve is one of our favourite places in the Winter. It is not overcrowded and is warm and sunny during the day and very easy to pick up a bargain if you book a few months in advance.
Be Kind To Yourself
Sometimes the only thing that you can do is give in to the feelings that Seasonal Affective Disorder brings. I am lucky that my husband fully understands my mental health issues and knows that there are times where I just cannot function properly. When that happens he steps away and gives me the space I need to have a day off (I do not like to be fussed over as this produces feelings of guilt which then fuels the depression). He will take over the household chores and the cooking for the day (usually a Sunday) and allow me to just snuggle under the blanket on the sofa and watch movies or box sets all day. There is nothing wrong with this, unless it happens too often. I tend to have one of these days once a month. Maybe twice in January and February, which seem to be my worst months.
Plan Something Fun
I have at least one day/night out already planned and booked for each month between October and March. I have committed myself to socialise with other people and booked something fun to look forward to. I tried this last year but failed miserably. Mainly because last year I booked things to do with my husband. The reason this didn’t work was when the day came I didn’t want to get dressed up and go out of the house. I wanted to hibernate. And because my husband is so lovely. He let me do just that. So you can see why for me this isn’t the way to go. This year I have booked things to do with friends. Now I know that on the day I will still get the feeling of not wanting to go. But because I would never let friends down. I will persevere, get dressed up and go out. And you know what. I will have a fantastic time full of fun and laughter.
I hope you have found some helpful tips above, that you haven’t tried before. And if you have any other tips that work for you please share. I am a big advocate for talking about mental health issues and sharing experiences and would love to hear from anyone who suffers from S.A.D so I can share with other sufferers.
Thank you for reading