In his 1816 poem ‘Darkness’, Lord Byron evocatively captures the sense of dislocation we feel when our days our stripped of sunlight and dominated by the dark. Here, when referring to ‘rayless’, ‘pathless’ and ‘icy’ earth that swings ‘blind and blackening in the moonless air’, he was reflecting on the eruption of Mount Tambora that deprived the Indonesian region of sunlight for large parts of the summer, yet the sentiments are timeless.
Though most of us are unfamiliar with curious volcanic eruptions of the early 19th century, we can all resonate with the feeling of alienation when the days get shorter and the air gets colder. For many who suffer from depression ordinarily, this feeling is more pervasive in winter, as the lack of sunlight is conducive to a gloomier state of mind.
Individuals who struggle with this mindset during the autumn and winter months are said to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as ‘winter depression’.
The behaviours of SAD sufferers are various, though all are united in having a disruptive effect on their daily life. According to the NHS website, the predominant characteristics include:
- Persistent low mood
- Loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- Feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness
- Feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
On top of everything that we are going through as a nation – namely a new COVID strain, among other pandemic-related fears – battling a pervasive mental disorder is an unwanted addition. This article is designed to help you stay aware of SAD and give tips on how to manage it.
Many will not know that they suffer from SAD, as often it can operate on an unconscious level. Fundamentally, an awareness of why your mood is changing is key to challenging these debilitating thoughts if you feel that you are susceptible or vulnerable.
Otherwise, even if working in subtle unconscious ways, thoughts will begin to dominate and lead to general levels of disaffection on a day-to-day basis; causing a negative change in sleeping or eating patterns.
SAD may be down to pure genetics, though it is also theorised that being deprived of sunlight inhibits the normal function of the hypothalamus in the brain. This, subsequently, has an adverse effect on the production of melatonin (the hormone that inspires tiredness), serotonin (the hormone that impacts mood, appetite, and sleep), and interrupts the body’s circadian rhythm (your body clock).
Remember that there are biological causes for this behaviour, and feel reassured that many others suffer from similar mood at this time of year.
Staying on Top
In any case, there are many ways to attempt to combat these thoughts and stay uplifted during the darker months. If daily life proves too much of a struggle, routine practices such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or antidepressants may be prescribed to help manage dark thoughts and boost serotonin levels.
However, don’t immediately rush to these methods, or rely exclusively on Vitamin D! First, try and adopt more proactive lifestyle choices in general, as they have been proven to prevent the potency of SAD symptoms and fight off the debilitating ‘winter blues’.
These are as simple as maximising the brief amount of sunlight that is available and getting going through morning exercise. Others have attempted light therapy, which uses a ‘light box’ to artificially simulate exposure to the sun. As reported by The Times, this is a strategy currently employed by rock icon Sir Mick Jagger!
Overall, stay on top of your feelings and recognise when you are slipping into negative habits. The sooner they are confronted, the sooner you can go about your business during the winter months.
Give yourself a break
On top of what has been a turbulent and unrelenting couple of years for everybody, go easy on yourself this winter. With unrelentingly cold climates and limited sunlight to enjoy, find comfort at home, develop structure in your life, and go about prioritising the things that are important.
For all the negatives of the pandemic, theoretically we are now more well-equipped as indoor creatures. If your surroundings are making you feel low, treat yourself to a new gadget, bedding, candle, snug clothing, or anything that boosts a sense of warmth, security, and zen.
Failing that, get outdoors! There is still a world out there to exploit and run around in, so harness the chilling air to enliven the senses and hit that runner’s high. If exercise really isn’t your bag, then find your nearest watering hole and chat the night away with friends by the fireplace, or visit Winter Wonderland to discover that festive cheer.
Whatever it may be, don’t let SAD get the better of you. Remember that a new year beckons with a myriad of opportunities, so make sure that you’re ready!