*Now we are in the midst of the winter months, the nights are drawing in earlier; warm, light summer evenings are a faded memory. Those evenings spent outside enjoying the warm sunshine have been replaced with dark nights in, huddled under blankets and thick jumpers, the lights being switched on at 3pm, and the heating being our source of warmth. Most of us would agree that the summer months make us feel happier, but for some, the Autumn months herald the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD, sometimes known as Winter Depression, has symptoms which include lethargy, low mood and changes in patterns of sleep, behaviour and energy. These symptoms of depression start off mildly in the autumn months and worsen as the winter progresses.
SAD is thought to be caused by the lack of sunlight during the shorter days in the year which affect the production of certain hormones in the brain which help to regulate mood, sleep and energy levels. To help treat this, light therapy can be used, where the user sits in front of a special lamp which emits a bright light. This light is thought to work on the part of the brain which regulates our mood, appetite and sleep patterns. SAD can also be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or anti-depressants.
Mindfulness has also been shown to help with depression and anxiety, by helping to reduce the activity of the part of the brain which causes symptoms of stress, fear and anxiety. It is so effective, that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend it as a form of treatment, available in the NHS. By learning to focus on each moment without placing any judgement on thoughts or feelings as they arise, the individual can reduce the chances of those feelings "snowballing" into bigger feelings or emotions.
So as the darker winter months progress, getting help by going to see your GP is vital if you have symptoms of SAD.
Personally, as a non-SAD sufferer, I work on the basis of living mindfully. By adjusting my perception of my experiences I change the way I feel about them. So I enjoy being cosy in my warm blanket in the evenings; I enjoy the feeling of the crisp, cold morning on my face as I walk to school with my children; I love to curl up with a hot chocolate and a good book on a dull, rainy Saturday, or watch a film with my children on "duvet days" when it is cold outside. Equally, I love getting muddy and cold during a run, to then enjoy a hot shower and a cup of tea. I spend time thinking about how the highs and the lows of the previous months have made me feel; and make plans and lists of what I want to do in the months ahead.
I run my own mindfulness courses throughout the year. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place. innerspaceproject.com
*This blog was originally submitted as an article for Purbeck! Journal , which has been published in the Autumn 2015 edition