Today I want to talk about something that a lot of people struggle with, especially in the Autumn and Winter months.
I’m referring to Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It is a real thing for many people and it can intensely negatively affect people’s lives, over the autumn and winter periods, dark mornings, and dark nights.
So what is SAD?
If you have SAD symptoms, you’ll experience depression during particular seasons, or because of certain types of weather. You might find that your mood or energy levels drop when it gets colder or warmer, or notice changes in your sleeping or eating patterns.
It will affect you at the same time of year every year. It’s most common during the winter. – Mental Health UK
According to NHSUK, SAD sufferers can display any of the following symptoms:
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- feeling irritable
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- low self-esteem
- feeling stressed or anxious
- a reduced sex drive
- becoming less sociable
- be less active than normal
- feel lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleep for longer than normal and find it hard to get up in the morning
- find it difficult to concentrate
- have an increased appetite – some people have a particular craving for foods containing lots of carbohydrates and end up gaining weight as a result
Research commissioned by The Weather Channel and YouGov has found that 29% of adults in the UK suffer from SAD symptoms to some degree, with women being around 40% more likely to suffer from it than men.
In general, women of all ages can be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder but the highest frequency of SAD was discovered in 22-25-year-old women.
Also, those with a family history of SAD are at higher risk of suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Now that we know what it is and who is at risk, what can we do to prevent it?
What can we do to manage it?
What can we do to get ourselves or someone we know through it?
SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – is a challenging state of mind, it comes under the label of mental health and there are many practical things that you can do:
- You can get a special type of light that can go into your bedroom. This is called bright light therapy. The light produced simulates the sunlight that we’re missing during the darker winter months. It’s thought the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood).
- You could go on sunbeds but then obviously you have got possible skin damage to worry about.
- It’s always advisable to speak to your GP if you are a person who is challenged by mental health problems or mindset challenges. Definitely speak to a health care professional of some sort and discuss it, talk it through, do a form of talk therapy or even cognitive behavioural therapy. There are lots of different tools that people can use to manage and help yourself at this time of year.
I’ve tried all of the above in the past and found them very helpful. Yes, I get Winter SAD.
My challenges with SAD
I have had my challenges over the years. Predominantly November / December would traditionally be the worst time of year for me, and I would struggle to get out of bed.
I would take time off of work. When I was working in a commercial gym would be a struggle.
Also at that time, I wouldn’t be looking after myself the way I would the rest of the year. I found myself, eating and drinking too much, using these as coping mechanisms.
We are talking about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) specifically, but essentially we are also talking about the health of the mind.
At various times of the year, I will have depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts, and bouts of depression. I am totally open and honest about this. Being honest with yourself and those closest to you is the first important step in tackling mental challenges.
Over the years I’ve had so much experience with this that I understand what it’s like to be in poor mental health
I have learned how to holistically manage my mental health by focusing on improving my physiological health and vitality, through exercise and nutrition.
There are several areas that you can look at to improve your health and vitality and prepare you to manage SAD and other forms of depression.
I’ve used my experience to try and help others in a similar situation. Taking part in Global suicide awareness campaigns, and since 2015 I’ve been successfully delivering mental health awareness workshops for young dentists in the dental universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Since 2006 I’ve met so many people in my role as a coach. Currently, I am a high-end executive coach looking after a selection of the West of Scotland’s most prominent and successful business people.
In that time I have collected a lot of data professionally and personally, and I have identified 4 ways that can combat S.A.D while also boosting your health and vitality.
STEPS to improve your health and vitality
At the gym and also in everyday life what I notice is that most people are dehydrated most of the time. So STEP 1 is to sort your hydration out.
Drink plenty of water, somewhere between 3-5 litres a day depending on your size but definitely a pint of water when you wake up in the morning after brushing your teeth, a pint and a half over the first hour of your day. A 500ml bottle every few hours to keep yourself going. That is the first easy fix for physical health.
STEP 2: Look at how you are fueling your body; the foods and fuel that you are putting into your system.
Prepare your own meals, using whole foods and healthy ingredients, keeping away from heavily processed convenience foods.
Supplementation also falls under foods and fuels. It is increasingly important in the winter months because your body isn’t exposed to as much daylight as the rest of the year and is more likely to be Vitamin D deficient.
Taking a daily Vitamin D supplement will help during this period, but I recommend that you take Vitamin D all year round.
STEP 3 Start to exercise. There is so much information out there about the merits of exercise for mental health.
I get that it is dark in the morning and you can’t be bothered going to the gym. There are reasons, there are excuses, there are barriers, there are obstacles in your way.
Yes, I understand that but you can move at home. You can get a pair of ‘joggies’ on, a couple of jumpers, and dance away to your favourite song in the privacy of your own home with the curtains closed.
You can make your body change its emotional state. You could do a bodyweight exercise as well.
Here are some exercises routines for you to try:
STEP 4 In addition to looking at your physical health, take a look at your sleep pattern. How are you sleeping? You should be getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. If you’re staying up to 1 am in the morning, watching “just one more episode” of your latest box set, and struggle to move in the morning, then perhaps that’s something you should look at.
If you are challenged with sleeping is it because you’re overthinking? If you are overthinking then how could you learn to slow your mind down? How could you learn to get yourself into a relaxed state before bed? Look at how stressed you are. I would look at how mentally fatigued you may be as well because if you are constantly thinking and it is not really the best most empowered thinking then it is going to have a negative effect on you.
My advice for that would be to go and download the Head Space App, and develop a level of understanding of how to breathe properly to reduce the disruption to the production of cortisol which is a stress hormone that affects many aspects of your body.
I am paraphrasing Dr Bruce Lipton here who is one of the leading experts in this area.
So you are resting your mind, you are looking after your body, you are doing some form of exercise/movement, some way to be able to get yourself to perspire.
Don’t like exercise, can’t afford the training, go for a sauna. Go into the local leisure centre or go to a spa health club. There’s always something that you can do to improve your mental state.
So let’s recap!
If you’re struggling with SAD, depression, anxiety, or with your health and fitness and want to talk about it further, why not get in touch and I’ll try to help.
Lastly, here is a poem that I wrote about suffering from depression:
Get out of me
You do me no good
You destroy all my happiness
You make me feel numb
Out of the darkness
You quickly appear
You fill me with your poison
With a vice like grip you take hold
Dark, grey, lost in anger and anxiety
Your storm swarms around suffocating me
For a long time now
You have clipped at my heels
Dragging me into that abyss of darkness
One thing I want you to know
No matter your hold
You will never defeat me
I will never give in
So do your worst
You will never win
"Strength for Life"
Davie McConnachie is Scotland’s leading health and wellness coach, multi-award-winning gym owner, motivational speaker, and the founder of DMC Fitness, a fitness education facility known as the premier choice for 1-2-1 personal training. He has inspired thousands of people to fall in love with fitness – his true mission in life.
In his own fitness journey, Davie has athletically competed in Mixed Martial Arts fighting for Scottish and British titles, boxed for Scotland’s top amateur boxing team, and competed internationally in Girevoy (kettlebell) Sport.
Diving into the world of sports and wellness has helped Davie to deal with his own inner demons. He. overcame many dark times using his own unique method to complete his cycle of H.E.A.L.I.N.G.