Seasonal Affective Disorder is a recognised condition which affects many people in the world. The Winter time has less hours of daylight and worse weather, resulting in negative effects in people. Its symptoms are depression, fatigue and poor health. However, less extreme symptoms may not identify itself easily. I didn’t think I suffered from SAD but this year I will take steps to get out of the downward spirals and get back into gear.
Over the years SAD has become a recognised condition. It has been covered by tv documentaries and earlier this year I came across this website about the condition. These sources talk about the effects and how common it is. Living in Scotland, where the best winter weather you get is ‘at least its not raining today’ It got me thinking about how the seasons affected me, and possible steps I could take to counteract it. Think of it as a new-years resolution, except a little early. This is my challenge!…
By no means did I suffer the extreme conditions mentioned in the TV programme or website, but thinking back over the last few years of my life I did begin to notice a repetition of bad events and feeling low. After I started university in October 2001, I was ready to quit my course after about 6 months. I didn’t leave the course however, and each year from then on January to March I felt drowned in course-work and exams. I always put it down to the upcoming exams and coursework times. I left my graduate job in April 2006 to work elsewhere. Each year something would come up at the beginning which would make me feel a bit down, gloomy, a little depressed.
Were all these things due to circumstance? Of course, some events like my exam scheduling were certainly not due to my doings, but looking under the surface of the basic events led me to think about my feelings and thoughts during the first few months of each year.
These feelings corresponded to the symptoms listed on the SAD website. Loss of concentration, lethargic and generally gloomy all round.
This year it will not happen again! I want to see the world as happy and bright as the summer days full of opportunity and fun! However I am aware that hope alone wont get me very far, so I have compiled my battle plan to combat the evil gloom that is SAD!
Thanks to the SAD website, I can now recognise the physical symptoms and change in conditions which allow SAD to take hold. But this time I will be prepared…
The first obvious sign that winter is kicking in is when things start to get darker a lot earlier in the evenings. When day-light savings sends the clocks back an hour, the evenings are even shorter. Then the mornings start to get gloomy. Pretty soon its dark when you get up in the morning and go to work, and then its dark in the evening when you leave for home. So in actual fact you see no sunlight all day! I feel sorry for the people living in the far north or south of the world. There will be times when there is literally no sun at all for months of the year! Daylight regulates our bodies on a sub-conscious level, and its important to realise just how important this is for all of us.
To solve this, the SAD website has suggested the used of a super bright SAD light for use when its dark. My solution will be to harness the great power of natural light and take a lunch time stroll outside. It might be cold and dull, even at midday, its better than the strip lights and TFT screens in the office.
I picked up somewhere that the physical reason the body needs light is because your skin produces Vitamin D with the help of light. Without the Vitamin D, your body becomes more lethargic. A booster of Vitamin D may help with SAD, so I plan to take multi-vitamins which should help.
Prepare for the mornings…
The mornings are where I experience the worst difficulties. If I haven’t slept in, I’m made late looking for my keys, bad traffic or having to scrape the windscreen. The key to stopping running franticly late is to set and maintain a good routine in the mornings. The best thing for me about being early for work is avoiding the morning traffic, so it is a great benefit to save 20 minutes on the commute. Getting up in the mornings used to be a real nightmare, but after the decision to get up early in the mornings (http://www.martinogg.com/2009/03/the-virtues-of-an-early-start/) I find getting up with the alarm clock might be tough but it sets me up for the whole day.
I have noticed that I have been more recently been tempted by more snacks and chocolate that what I would usually have, which doesn’t help mental alertness or physical condition. The key is to recognise that these cravings become more evident during the cold weather and the importance of eating healthily to maintain your health, both mentally and physically. How can you expect to be able to work a full day if all you eat is chocolate biscuits and drink too much coffee? Being more strict on yourself is necessary to ensure you eat healthily. Make sure you give yourself enough time for breakfast in the mornings (I am especially guilty of that so I keep an emergency pack of cereal at work just in case I find myself without time in the mornings). With other people snacking more at work its especially easy to cave in when someone offers you a biscuit, or some are left in the kitchen area to share. For these times I make sure I have a piece of fruit handy, so when I feel the cravings I can eat that instead.
During the summer months I would go for a walk, a jog or walk in to town at the weekends. Because it is so cold outside now, it becomes very tempting to just take the car, or exchange a post-meal stroll with a video game or TV episode. Finding the motivation to go to the gym dwindles and excuses upon excuses mount up. I have a very quick regime in the mornings when I get up. I go for a 5 minute brisk walk round my street. This helps the blood flow and is far more effective than snoozing for the same time. Instead of being very cold when getting ready, its actually warmer than outside. Before leaving for work, I do a set of stomach crunches, push ups and leg stretches. I don’t expect to become Superman overnight like the ab-swing infomercials promise, but it is an improvement over the zero exorcise I’d have otherwise done. I feel that it helps at work, because for the days I don’t do this, I feel noticeably less focussed on my work. Now, for the times I don’t feel like exorcising, I tell myself the benefits of doing so and that inspires me to get into action.
The downward spiral
For some, the winter months can mean a downward spiral in which keeping each ongoing day becomes colder, less active, more depressing and lazy. It takes courage, effort and discipline to keep this from happening. Bear in mind its not the season thats directly controlling these results; consciously identify where the bad actions are happening in your own world and take charge to stop things from slipping. If you already feel you are in a low position, take some small steps to get back into your stride. How about setting your alarm clock 30 minutes earlier and have a healthy breakfast? My dad recently re-introduced me to the wonders of porridge. Add some honey and its tastier than any breakfast cereal (even the chocolate ones) and it keeps you warm when you take that first step out the front door on a cold December morning.