Was Monday 16th January 2012 the gloomiest day of the year for you?
Scientists at Cardiff University designated the third Monday of January “the saddest day of the year”.
They say at this time of year weather conditions are bleak, Christmas is over, credit card bills are coming in, you’re back at work and there’s not another holiday for months, you’ve put on weight, motivation is low and you’re tired. Maybe more than that, you feel depressed.
When the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the light is bright, many of us feel happy and energetic. When it’s dark and gloomy, the converse applies and we feel unhappy and lethargic. This is quite normal, but for one in ten of us, the situation is more serious and we may be suffering from SAD or winter depression.
Counselling for SAD, Winter Blues
SAD is a type of depression which is affected by the season. As the name implies, winter blues is common in the winter months when there are fewer daylight hours and light intensity is less.
Light plays an important part in regulating physiological and psychological systems. When light hits the retina, messages are sent to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates sleep, appetite, sex drive, body temperature and mood. In the winter when there is less light, these activities can slow down.
It is normal to want to sleep more in the darker, colder months. It is also normal to feel less energetic and a bit low when the skies are grey and the days are short. Some of us wish we could just hibernate and wake up in the spring.
Psychotherapy for SAD, Winter Blues
However, some of us seem to need more light and are likely to develop SAD. It is estimated that around 10% of the people of Northern Europe have SAD symptoms. They will notice changes in their mood such as sadness, anxiety or irritability. They notice changes in their behaviour such as a tendency to eat more and consequently put on weight. Their energy is low and they feel depressed. These symptoms recur regularly each winter. Sometimes SAD may have been triggered by life events such as serious illness, bereavement or hormone imbalance following miscarriage or childbirth.
How to beat SAD
There are however several things however that you can do to help yourself overcome winter blues:
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- Exercise. There is a wealth of evidence that shows there is a strong link between good mental health and physical activity. (See http://www.changefitness.co.uk for fitness advice and training, and http://www.coredynamix.co.uk : combined personal fitness training and psychotherapy for overall wellbeing).
- Eat well. Keep to healthy eating, balancing carbohydrate with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Light therapy is useful in tackling SAD. Get outside in the natural light as much as possible. Keep warm.
- Avoid stressful situations. Your body is less able to tolerate pressure in winter months.
- Be kind to yourself. Use mindfulness to relax and strengthen your coping mechanisms to combat winter blues.
- Get enough sleep
- See people. Socialise with friends and family.
- Be a resource yourself. Understanding and helping others improves your emotional health.
- See a psychotherapist or counsellor. There may be underlying factors contributing to SAD which you can do something about with the help of someone who knows about the condition