Over the last 5 or 6 years I have found winter hitting harder than it ever did before. It took me a few years to work it out but now I fully realise that I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and I have spent some time both researching and listening to what I need to make winters easier. I hope my experience can help others.
Firstly, what is SAD?
There is a multitude of websites out there that tell you about it. I have read a few and come up with my own interpretation. This relates only to me but may resonate with others.
SAD, for me, starts around the autumn equinox which is a point in September where the day and night length are equal, after that days get shorter and nights lengthen. I feel the shift but at that point is isn’t affecting me very much. However, as the nights get longer I find myself wanting to start the hibernation process. The scientists will say that this is to do with the circadian rhythm which is the sleep cycle triggered by the release of melatonin in the brain. This cycle is aligned with the sunrise and sunset times and as it gets dark earlier and light later in the mornings we want to sleep more. Couple this with the reduction in sunlight that is important in the process of creating serotonin in the brain and depression and anxiety set in.
There are methods of dealing with these very 3-dimensional symptoms, but I believe there is so much more to it than this, particularly for people who consider the changing of the seasons as very important in their lives.
The deeper causes of SAD
Think back to a time when we were more aligned with nature and the seasons. More often than not people in those times rose with the sunrise and retired to bed with the sunset. Bring into this the fact that there was less to do out in the fields in the winter meant we slept more. Think now about what there was to eat; in the summer there were fresh fruits and vegetables but in the winter diet was restricted to what could be stored over winter and animals that could be butchered. This means that the diet was higher in carbohydrates and protein and lower in fresh fruit and veg; explaining why SAD often brings on carb craving, binge eating and weight gain. We are preparing for harsh weather and possibly hibernation.
Unfortunately we don’t live in that world any more. Society insists that we continue with the same pace of life that we have in the summer. It insists that we continue to get up at the same time in the morning, stay slim and force ourselves to exercise when deep in our souls the more natural part of us is screaming to stop, rest, conserve energy and prepare for winter.
On a spiritual level we work on our growth through the summer and the winter is a time of quiet reflection and solitude just at a time when the party season is getting into full swing. We are deeply craving time for time to assimilate what we have learned in the year rather than partying, and this can cause anxiety as we fight our body’s need for peace.
If you want to take it to an even deeper spiritual level, I am starting to wonder about it’s connection with the concept that human evolution leads us to being able to metabolise sunlight. At the moment we eat food to sustain us. I see food as sunlight frequency energy that has been slowed down so we can access it. Plants need sunlight to grow, we eat the plants for energy. The plant has transmuted the sunlight energy into a form that we can digest. At an even denser level the plant needs sunlight to grow, a cow eats the plant and we eat the cow (if we are meat eaters).
So, if we raise our vibration enough we should be able to cut out the middle man and access the energy of the sun ourselves. Applying this hypothesis to SAD we find that maybe there are some of us that are at a stage where we are starting to metabolise light and when we get less sunlight we crave denser foods.
So, how do we deal with SAD on an holistic level?
I am still in the process of putting together my own regime but I am finding some success with what I have so far. Please remember I am not a doctor, nor do I have ANY training in human physiology beyond knowing roughly where the major organs are. All of the information I share is what I have found on the internet and is readily available to all. Do your own research and I urge to you speak to your GP before starting anything.
For me it is important to look at all the aspects of SAD. Although we may have worked to align ourselves with the seasons we live in a modern world and, unless we are lucky enough to be able to choose our daily routine, we have to function in the modern world.
Of course, the simplest way to combat SAD is to get as much sunlight as possible, for some that is winter holidays, for others it is long walks in nature when the sun is out, but there is more that can be done.
The Mind – Brain Chemistry
There is a lot of information on brain chemistry on the internet but the majority of it points to Vitamin D as being necessary in the production of serotonin. This vitamin can be found in oily fish and eggs but we get the majority of what we need from sunlight hitting the skin. A lack of vitamin D has become a serious problem in modern society where we are encouraged to cover up and use sunblock all year round. Couple that with working in offices and we find that we get very little sunlight all year round, when winter comes it gets even worse.
Vitamin D3 can be taken as a supplement and there are various other supplements that can help the absorption of D3. I urge you to do your research but I will say that I have found taking this very effective.
It is also suggested that Omega oils are helpful in attaining healthy brain chemistry. As a non meat eater I take Flax Seed oil and add linseed to my oatmeal in the mornings. Again, I have found this very effective.
There are a number of other options on the market such as 5-HTP, melatonin and some swear by St John’s Wort however there are a number of contraindications that lead me to decide not to take it. There is also some information that B vitamins, magnesium and zinc are useful too. Again, do your own research.
Another very simple way to raise your serotonin levels is through exercise, however as SAD sets in deeper you may find it hard to motivate yourself, if you can you will find it very effective.
The Body – Circadian Rhythms
Due to the change in sunrise and sunset times we produce melatonin earlier in the day and for longer making us feel tired earlier and wanting to sleep for longer. The way to combat this is to fool our brains into thinking it is still summer. For this we use light therapy.
I use 3 different lights through the day.
- I have a sunrise lamp that helps me get out of bed in the morning. This light creates a false sunrise by slowly getting brighter over the 30 minutes before I need to get out of bed. It also has a gentle alarm. This means I wake gently and naturally rather than being jolted out of deep sleep by a obnoxious buzzer.
- Once I am up I use a big 10,000 lux full spectrum lamp at 6am in the morning for around 30 minutes. Because my rhythm is slightly retarded I need a pulse of bright light in the morning to wake me up. I have set this lamp up so it is on the windowsill in the kitchen so I can stand in front of it while I do the dishes from the night before.
- When I get to work I turn on my small light pod on my desk. This is a full spectrum lamp but is not as bright as my big lamp. This gives me a brighter working environment during the day and keeps my brain alert. This light gets turned off at 3pm as having it on any later would delay the production of melatonin later in the evening and make falling asleep harder.
To get the best out of light therapy it is important to research circadian rhythms and work out whether yours is retarded or advanced.
This covers the physiological side, but we want to look at this from an holistic angle.
The soul – Everything else
I have found that getting a SAD beating routine in the morning helps get me through the day, and I start as soon as I have been woken by my sunrise lamp.
As I get to the point where I struggle to get motivated to do vigorous exercise I rely on my morning routine more and more. I start with a few very gentle sit ups before I have got out of bed. In reality they aren’t sit ups, more I raise my head and shoulders off the pillow and lift my legs from the bed maybe 30 times, nothing more.
After that I do a little yoga. I enjoy the sun salutation and have put together some other stretches and twists just to get me moving. A few half press ups later and I am done. This just tells my body at a more spiritual level that the day has started.
After this I am downstairs to see my cats and use my big 10,000 lux lamp while I do the dishes. I find this a gentle way to wake up as the cats make me smile and the dishes take no thinking about so I can mull over the coming day.
One of the biggest symptoms of SAD for me is anxiety. This is not a direct fear that can be faced up to but more of a random anxiety that has no actual cause. For this I use the MIR Method and I have found it very successful. It takes 2 minutes and clicking the link will take you to a video that will teach you very quickly how to do it. This is the next part of my morning routine as I do it in the shower while I am washing my hair and again when I am scrubbing my face.
After that I often recite mantras while showering, I love the Invocation to Light and the Great Invocation. After that I have a little chat with Spirit about the coming day. I love doing this at this time; there are no distractions and being a water sign I always feel relaxed and connected there. Also, no-one other than the cats can hear me.
Just before I leave for work I take my supplements and have warming oatmeal with linseed and dried apricots. This fills me up with low fat carbs that keep me going well into the morning. During the day I eat oat cakes and nuts along with a salad wrap to keep the carb addiction at bay without (hopefully) succumbing to sugary foods. If I must have chocolate I make it a high % cocoa content so that I am getting the hit with as few calories as possible.
This routine helps me get through the day reasonably well, but when things get tough I call on other tools in the box.
Bach Flower remedies are great for working with SAD, however when you are deep in it it may be hard to pick the right remedies. I may have blogged before that for years I tried taking remedies for how I saw the world while in the depths of SAD only to realise I needed Willow, the remedy for self pity. Agrimony can help with the food cravings. Olive might be useful for the tiredness and Hornbeam can help with inaction due to tiredness. Of course it is best to choose the remedies that are right for your situation.
Something I have tried recently is colour therapy with a friend from Colour for Well Being and I have to say I found it wonderfully soothing and I plan to book another session just after Christmas to help me through the rest of the winter. I find that the world becomes less colourful in the winter with the dark days and particularly if we have long periods with standing snow. There are no leaves on the trees and no flowers; we don’t even get blue skies for days on end. Colour is important for the spirit so working to increase the amount of colour around you could prove very important. I know my soul cries out for fresh green leaves when we get to January.
Essential oils is another tool that can be useful, citrus oils lift the spirits and reminds our soul of sunny days. Bergamot is great for depression and I find peppermint quite invigorating.
Finally, for now at least, crystals are always my constant companions, riding along with me in my pocket or on my jewellery and of course I have my regular sessions with the wonderful Hilary.
I am sure there is so much more out there that can help with something that is very misunderstood and can be very debilitating. As always I urge people to not be brought down by dis-ease but to come back fighting; implementing changes in their lives that can minimise the effect of the issue. You may not find a complete cure, but things could be easier.
Sunbeams to you all