A touch of SAD

By Jennifer Constable, Editor-in-Chief (@Peculiar_Jenny)

So it’s February; we’ve hit that post-Christmas period where the deadlines are starting to creep up, we’re perpetually skint, and our skin is probably constantly shit from the cold weather. The dreary nature of the first few month of the year are enough to make anyone feel a bit glum and mopey, but for those of us suffering from SAD, the bad weather can have a serious, detrimental effect on our mood and mental health.

So what actually is SAD? To put it in simple terms, SAD stands for Seasonal Affected Disorder; a type of depression which comes and goes with the changing of the seasons, often referred to as “Winter Blues” as sufferers tend to find their condition worsens when the nights draw in and the days get colder. There are a number of theories behind the actual causes of SAD conditions, ranging from speculations of a lack of serotonin to a prevailing idea that some people are predisposed to developing SAD based on their personality traits.

I was diagnosed with depression in the winter of 2016, where I was suffering from the worst bout of mental health I’d experienced in my life. As a fourth year student, and in the midst of writing a lengthy dissertation, my mental health was severely affecting my academic work, and I couldn’t understand why I had suddenly become so resigned and helpless in such a dramatic way.

Struggling to get out of bed, reluctant to eat, and feeling panicked at the thought of walking out my front door, I genuinely felt I was going insane, blaming my state of mind on the stress of university and work. Encouraged by my friends to seek medical help, my doctor reassured me that it was normal for my depression symptoms to get worse when there’s less sun around, and everything seems that bit darker, both in a literal and mental sense. Relieved that I wasn’t losing my mind, I got the help I needed, and started to recover.

The NHS estimated that SAD affects 1 in 15 people between the months of September to April, experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, loss of interest in activities and a persistent tiredness and low mood. For people living in countries like Alaska, where they go without sunlight for weeks on end, figures are much higher, leading to countries in the Northern hemisphere having some of the highest suicide rates in the western world.

If you’ve been struggling, or think you’ve been having problems with SAD, there are several effective coping methods for managing your mood, three of which I found particularly effective during the winter months. Firstly, as with any mental health complaint, the best course of action is to talk to people; tell your friends and family, and seek medical help if needed. Suffering with SAD can be an isolating experience, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and can often find comfort in sharing your fears and anxieties by talking them through with someone else.

Secondly, invest in a SAD lamp. Possibly the best buy of my 2016, a SAD lamp offers light box therapy, giving you your daily dose of sunlight from your bedside cabinet, and immediately lifting your spirits. The lamps come in various sizes and some are even portable, so you can even take a mini one with you to work on your worst days.

Lastly, eating well is important, and something I’m personally guilty of neglecting. Your body can’t function properly without food, and if you’re already feeling lethargic, the last thing you want to do is starve yourself- on binge on all the wrong things for too long. I understand that some days managing to eat anything is a real achievement, even if it’s just a piece of toast and scrambled egg, but you’ll feel better for having eaten something solid. Eating good food makes your body feel good, and gives you that much needed energy and stamina to keep you active. While clean eating isn’t essential for recovery, trying to maintain a healthy eating pattern will help your peace of mind, and make you feel more alive.

SAD is a bleak, debilitating and frightening illness but it is only temporary, and even at my lowest points, that thought was what kept me going. Like all mental health conditions, SAD is a valid health problem, and deserves to be acknowledged and treated as such. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to take time to look after yourself, taking each day one step at a time.

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