In partnership with Guernsey Mind
Many of us tend to feel a bit low at this time of year. It’s dark when we wake up, darker still when the working day is done. Plus, it’s cold, wet and windy outside. It can be difficult to stay motivated and focus on the wellbeing practices we know can help us through the winter months, and sometimes we just feel like hibernating. But how can you tell if what you are feeling actually goes beyond the ‘winter blues’ and into the realms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that feeling lethargic and a bit down is common at this time of year, and most people are are able to carry on with everyday life, looking forward to the lighter days ahead.
But, around 2 million people in the UK experience feelings of low mood that last for a long time and start to have a negative impact on their daily routines and relationships. These feelings are more than 'feeling a bit down in winter’ and are recognised as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a type of depression that typically hits during the winter months.
SAD can affect anyone, but the risk increases with age and symptoms usually start in adulthood. Research shows that women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men and younger people.
The causes of SAD are similar those linked to depression, with additional factors specific to winter SAD which include the lack of daylight hours and issues linked to changes in melatonin and serotonin levels in the body.
There are 10 key signs and symptoms of SAD to look out for:
1. Feeling lethargic and lacking in energy.
2. Having difficulty concentrating.
3. Sleeping more and struggling to get out of bed.
4. Feeling anxious and irritable
.5. Feeling sad and tearful.
6. Feeling guilty or hopeless.
7. Not wanting to see people.
8. Experiencing changes in appetite and overeating.
9. Being more prone to colds, infections and other illnesses.
10. Losing interest in sex or physical contact.
You may also experience other symptoms of depression, and the symptoms can vary from person to person.
‘It’s like having your own portable black cloud’ is how one person described the experience to MIND.
Another explained ‘I just can't stay awake and the thought of having to go out, stay awake, make conversation. I just can't do it.’
The good news is that there are ways you can ease the symptoms of SAD, with various treatment options out there. Here are just some of the ways you can seek support.
Light therapy is a relatively new treatment option which in its simplest form replaces sunlight with an artificial light source. It comes in many forms, from light boxes and lamps to alarm clocks that emit light to stimulate dawn. If you decide to try light therapy, Mind suggests discussing this with your doctor who can advise on whether it's suitable for you to try.
SAD is a form of depression and there are many therapeutic interventions and coping strategies that can be effective in treating depression. Healthy Minds is a local organisation that helps locals to develop a 'toolbox' of coping strategies to help with mild to moderate depression, including talking therapies and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques. You can self-refer or access the service via your GP.
Many of us are deficient in B Vitamins, which are known to play an important role in mood regulation and energy levels. Vitamin D, also know as the sunshine vitamin, is also in short supply during the winter months. In fact, health guidance from the States of Guernsey recommends that we all take Vitamin D3 supplements during the winter months and try to get outdoors for a minimum of 20 minutes every day to make up for the lack of direct sunlight from October through to April.
If self help isn't easing your symptoms, explain your symptoms to your doctor and they will be able to recommend the best way forward for you. This may include medication or referral to specialist services.
If you are supporting a friend or family member who is experiencing SAD, let them know you are there for them and encourage them to seek help. It can be difficult to understand how someone else is feeling, but by being sensitive to their needs and remaining non-judgemental you can provide them with the emotional support they need to reach out. SAD can make people feel very isolated, so try to stay in touch - but don’t forget to look after your own mental wellbeing too.
If you have concerns about your mental health, reach out to your GP or get in touch with Guernsey Mind for details of support and services you can access locally.
You might also want to take a look at Where to Find Mental Health Support in Guernsey.