Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Stepping out of the door this morning my breath was taken away by a cold blast of air as the wind whipped round the corner and hit me. Yet there is something special about those crisp, cold winter days when you can wrap up warm and go for a walk under the blue skies or snuggle up under a blanket indoors with a good film.
But, for many, winter represents a much bleaker picture
Getting up in the pitch black and getting home in the pitch black is no fun for most people. Seeing the light start to fade at 4.00pm can cause a heavy feeling from within. It becomes harder to bounce out of bed, to find the motivation to go to the gym after work and generally to feel energized about most activities.
The sound of ‘driving home for Christmas’, sipping mulled wine and shopping for gifts can help to lift our mood somewhat, yet for many when those clocks go back no amount of Christmas fun can bring a sparkle to those dark days. Psychologists have a term for those of us who experience depression on a regular seasonal basis which is “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” There are people who are affected by SAD in the spring months but in winter it is far more common.
Daylight and Depression
There is a strong link between depression and day light and many European countries such as Norway and Sweden, who do not receive the same amount of day light hours compared to other countries, have high rates of depression.
Day light hours are much shorter in the winter months which affect the chemical balance in our bodies. We need daylight to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter which is responsible for regulating our energy levels, pain gates, sexual attraction, appetite and boosting our memory. In short the levels of serotonin in our system affect our overall mood. Instead what we produce more of in the darker hours of the day is melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. Both of these neurotransmitters are the body’s messengers, bringing information and instructions to every cell in our bodies – including our brains.
Symptoms of SAD
Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms include:
- Loss of energy
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Daylight. In the winter months we tend to spend more time indoors and less out and about in day light, affecting our ability to absorb light and produce serotonin. Ideally to boost our levels of serotonin we should spend about 30 minutes a day outside in direct sunlight. Even when the sun is not shining, we can still get the necessary stimulation to produce serotonin. Naturally on days when the sun is shining precautions should still be taken by applying an SPF 15 to the face and wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes. If you tend to drive to and from work and spend most of the day behind glass, see what you can do to get outside in day light hours. Even a fifteen minute walk at lunchtime around the block will serve to boost your energy and mood than nothing at all.
Eat serotonin producing food. Serotonin is also made from tryptophan which is an amino acid found in poultry, oily fish, beans, baked potatoes, oats, nuts, seeds, hummus and sweet potatoes.
Getting the right sleep. Serotonin production is also dependent on how much deep sleep we get. As part of our sleep cycle, we slip into REM sleep (rapid eye movement) several times a night. In REM we are dreaming out our unresolved emotions. During REM sleep we are actually conscious it is only sleep paralysis that prevents us from carrying out our dreams – otherwise we would all be trying to operate flying saucers!. It is during deep sleep that the body does its housekeeping such as flushing out toxins, repairing cell and tissue damage and as part of that house keeping it also produces serotonin. People who suffer from depression spend up to 4 times longer in REM sleep because the body is trying to process their emotional state. This means they are not getting enough deep sleep and are preventing the body from producing serotonin. Calming down the mind before bed is key to a good night’s sleep. Listening to hypnotic downloads, doing some yoga, reading a book and even writing down on a piece of paper how you are feeling helps to calm down a racing mind, giving it a much better opportunity to get a restful sleep.
Hypnotherapy. In some cases it may take more than a regular walk in the park to get someone back to feeling good. It is natural for most people to experience dips in mood, but for people who suffer from depression, it can be harder to lift themselves out of the dip, particularly if there is a lack of serotonin in the body. Hypnotherapy is particularly successful at helping overcome depression. It works by calming down the emotional brain, allowing people to sleep much better which in turn restores the production of in the brain. Hypnotherapy also works by changing people’s thought patterns at very subconscious level. Thoughts are what drive our emotions, behaviours and beliefs, so in order to change any of these we have to change the way we think. This isn’t always easy to do on a conscious level because our thought patterns are so ingrained. Hypnosis is a safe and effective way of clearing any negative thought patterns and re booting the mind with new neural pathways which gives way to more positive thought processes.
For those of us that live in colder climates, the weather can be a source of dismay yet we don’t have to let it dictate our mood. Only you can choose how to feel and you always have a choice about whether to feel happy or sad. We all need a helping hand now and again so if you find that SAD is making you sad, then contact me today and bring the sunshine back into your life.