Monthly Archives: November 2016

How can I manage SAD symptoms? Part One – Light Therapy

I’ve touched on how to manage symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues briefly in ‘SAD basics’. As promised in that post, I’m working my way through the ‘What, Why, Who, Where, When and How’ of SAD in more detailed posts. So, this is the big ‘How’. “Finally” – I hear you say?! 😉 This first post focuses on light therapy.

This turned into a really long post, so I’ve split it into four parts, to make it more digestable – although they’re still long! I’ll add links at the end to the other parts as I post them. These posts are based on my own personal experience of living with SAD; I’ll signpost you to quality information available on the web if you want to do further reading. The resources section of the site is there too.

So you know that you suffer from either SAD or Winter Blues – now what? How do you manage the symptoms so that you can get back to being you? Or a slightly more recognisable version of you, at least? 

First the bad news, to get it over with:

There is no one universal, this-will-definitely-work-for-you treatment for SAD or Winter Blues.

You can’t permanently ‘treat’ these conditions in the traditional sense; unfortunately you can’t be cured of SAD. It is really about managing your symptoms with daily treatment when you feel you need it.

OK, so now that’s out of the way – the good news! 😀

According to the SAD Association, 85% of people will find some relief of their symptoms by using light therapy regularly.

This is usually from the onset of symptoms (any time from late August) until the time their symptoms normally disappear (for many, this is often late March/early April).

What are SAD Lights/Lamps?

hands cupping sunshine - natural light therapy is best if you can get itSAD Lights/Lamps are very bright lights that simulate the level of light you would get on a clear spring morning. They are the leading method for managing SAD symptoms.

Light is measured in lux. A minimum of 2,500 lux output is recommended for treating SAD symptoms, but a brighter 10,000 lux light will enable you to sit further away, or reduce your treatment time. The newer LED lights are often a lower intensity at 2,500 lux, but they contain more blue light, so can be as effective as a 10,000 lux light.

Normal light bulbs, or even ‘daylight bulbs’, are not strong enough to treat SAD – 2,500 lux is roughly five times brighter than a well-lit office.

How do you use light therapy lights?

You can do other activities, like reading or watching TV while you’re having your light treatment. You don’t look into the light, it just needs to reach your eyes. How close you need to sit and for how long depends on the strength of your light and how severe your symptoms are.

If you like to sit further away from your light, you’ll need a longer treatment time. The manufacturer of your light will give you an idea of typical treatment time; for example the strongest and largest lights are generally 10,000 lux and take 30 minutes at 30cm (about arm’s length).

What do I use?

I have two lights. I treated myself to a new Lumie Brazil (shown in the image) last year and I love it! It is a broad spectrum light – the first I’ve had – and it is a lovely warm-toned light. My previous light for home was daylight spectrum and a stark, blue-toned light). I have my breakfast sitting in front of it. I’ve also started practising ‘The Miracle Morning‘ recently and so I do the practices at my dining table. 

Lumie Brazil light therapy lamp

At work I have a small portable LED light for top-ups or if I have missed my morning session for whatever reason. They don’t make the one I have now; it’s been replaced with the Zest. My light sits on my desk at work and is about the size and weight of a paperback novel. What’s great about this is that I can put it away in my desk drawer when it’s not in use, and if I happen to travel somewhere, I can easily take it with me.

Before I bought this light, I did consider how I’d feel about having it on my desk, with colleagues coming to see me to discuss projects. I also wondered whether the bright light would bother my team. I needn’t have worried. The light’s quite targeted and I can always switch it off if someone comes to my desk. It’s not unusual for colleagues to be interested and ask about the light. Some have even gone and bought light therapy products off the back of these conversations. 

What alternative light therapy products are there?

You can also get light therapy in the form of a visor, so you can move around while receiving light therapy, but I’ve never used these. Also, the Valkee Brain Stimulation Headset was launched a few years ago, but I have no experience of this and the SADA committee don’t believe they work so I haven’t bothered to try. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has used either type of product.

How long will it take for light therapy to work?

You might need to play about a bit with light therapy before you find what works best for you. It’s really worth persevering for a little while though, trying different times of the day, different distances and length of treatment.

Most people will start to feel better (more energy, improved mood) within about two weeks, but if it takes longer than this for you, don’t worry! If you’re not finding the light therapy helpful, try calling the manufacturer for some advice.

If you still find that light therapy doesn’t work for you, try not to lose hope; your doctor will be able to recommend other treatment strategies, some of which I’ll talk about in part three.

Final advice…

It’s really important that you be as consistent as you can with your light therapy – use your light every day in the months that you normally experience symptoms. This will help keep your serotonin levels on a more even keel and, together with a few other coping strategies, you should feel much more your normal self than in previous winters.

In spring and summer, a run of dull weather can bring your symptoms on again. Don’t worry – many people experience this! It would be so nice to be able to put your light away in a cupboard for six months. Unfortunately the UK’s spring and summer months seem to be becoming wetter and so it’s worth keeping your light within easy reach.

Dog enjoying some light therapy in a sunny windowAnd of course, my final piece of advice about light therapy: try to get as much natural light as you can! I know it’s hard, but if you can get out and about you’ll feel better. If you struggle with this ask a friend or family member to give you a prod! Sit by windows if you can too – it all helps.

I hope that you will have found this post helpful, but as always, I welcome your feedback and comments. What’s your experience of light therapy? Have you tried a visor or the Valkee in-ear system; what did you think? Is there anything missing from this post that you’d like me to include?

The next part of this post will look at dawn simulators; they’re great little inventions that help get you out of your pit in the morning!

Take care

– Neens –

Image credits
Hands up: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/hands-up-1537812
Laurent: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/laurent-1373052
L
umie Brazil: http://www.lumie.com/collections/light-therapy-sad/products/brazil

Learnings from the One Woman Conference

Earlier this month I attended the One Woman Conference. If I had to sum the experience up in one word? Transformational.

With 300+ women in the room, the event felt tribal. These amazing, beautiful women – all there for different reasons. We will likely all have taken different things from the conference, but what I think we all came away with was the message that ‘we’re women, we’re different, and that’s okay!’

I’m really interested in psychology and personal development; I’ve learned a lot about myself and others. Through Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) I’ve made some big improvements to the way my life feels day-to-day. But I know I want to continue to invest in my development so I can remove barriers and develop the skills I need to achieve my potential.

The One Woman Conference was very emotional for some women, for whom this might have been their first experience of these kinds of powerful techniques. Check out the Storify below:

 

I want to share with you five key things I took away from the conference:

We are NOT superwomen

Jo Martin’s inimitable presentation style really shone through as she demonstrated how we become ‘superwoman’ and what it does to us. Putting on other people’s glasses, one on top of the other as she collected ways of seeing the world as she grew up, she effectively demonstrated how we end up with some very damaging attitudes. Damaging for us, and for our relationships.

Many of us have received these messages as we’ve grown up: ‘we must work hard, push through even when we’re tired or sick’; ‘if you want something doing properly, do it yourself’; ‘nothing good comes easy’… etc! On goes the cape and the pants…

What it leads to is us running around like headless chickens, ignoring the needs of our bodies and ultimately, burning out as our bodies eventually tell us enough is enough!

We don’t have the same hardware as men

If you plug a 120v American hairdryer into a British 240v socket, what happens? IT BLOWS UP! Yet British and American hairdryers work great when you plug them into the right sockets.

This led to quite a powerful ‘ah-ha’ moment for many of us in the room. It’s not that we don’t know that as women we’re different… I mean, look at us! Physically we’re different and we also have subtle differences in our brains too. In the UK we’re living in a country that highly values masculine traits and so some of us have been trying to be like men, especially in our work. Geert Hofsteade’s work is very interesting and you can read more about the UK’s culture on his website.

This isn’t a debate about who’s ‘best’ at anything, by the way. Men and women bring their own value to the table and work so well together. What they were saying is ‘let the men be the men and stop trying to also be a man!’

We were introduced by Susie Heath to male energy (Yang) and female energy (Yin). How they are different, and how they feel in the body, using some stirring music and a set of words spoken to us over the music. The Yin and Yang should balance; sometimes you need to use more male-type energy to get stuff done. However, if we spend too much time in that energy, then we’ll burn out. We need to balance it with Yin female energy. Susie’s latest book is ‘Dance Your Way to the Top‘.

We are cyclical

As women we’re often called out in our lives when we act in ways that don’t seem to be ‘us’. Sometimes this is the effect of hormones. Sometimes it’s the season we’re in. Often it’s because we’re pushing ourselves to our limits, are stressed or ill.

Jo explained how she tracks and harnesses the energy of different times of her cycle. When she’s feeling low on energy and wants to curl up in a ball, she allows herself to retreat and rest. She knows that a few days later she’ll have a whole load of energy to blast through work. Obviously the practicality of this has to be considered; there are days you can’t retreat and rest and you do have to push through, but then she advises to ensure you make some time for rest.

She also spoke about time blocking, which she called ‘batching for energy matching’. This is where you gather similar tasks together and do them as a block. The reason this works is that it takes 15-20 minutes for you to shift your mindset into different types of work, so you can feel like you’re not at your best. So her advice was to focus on one type of work for half the day, and then do something else for the other half. Learning your own daily and monthly rhythms of energy also helps, so you can schedule e.g. creative, nurturing or demanding tasks when you can best complete them.

We have many archetypes that we can harness

Women are many things, aren’t we? There was a whole list! From the empowering: caregiver, teacher, actress, etc. And then there’s the disempowering ones: bitch, victim, martyr.

While it may seem an odd concept at first, what we learned is that you can ‘call up’ different ‘power types’ when you need them. One of manyâ„¢ calls these the Soft Power Types. The ones we learned about were mother, lover, sorceress, warrioress and queen. We also heard that many of us get stuck at times in one of the unhelpful power types: bitch, victim and martyr.

We naturally have these different types of energies within us. Susie Heath helped us to feel them in our bodies. Some of them are under-expressed and we find them difficult to connect with. Others we spend most of our time in (mother, anyone?)

If this all sounds a bit weird… well, yes, it was a bit! Many parts of the conference were and it would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea! But I’m learning through experience that you have to be open-minded and try something different if you want a different result from what you’ve been living so far.

My favourite was queen. I really felt something shift in me when we were doing that one. Most people in the room seemed to grow by a few centimetres and be holding their heads up high after that one!

 

We achieve so much more by reaching out

Time and time again through the stories shared – including by five very inspiring ladies who had been doing the Lead The Change programme – we heard about the importance of a strong support network.

We’re social creatures. We work well when we share our ideas and provide support to others with theirs. When we’re planning our goals, so often we see them as being a solo undertaking; something we must do ourselves for it to be our achievement. It doesn’t have to be like this, though. You don’t get medals in this life for struggling on your own.

So whatever you’re working on, whether it’s to be a great mum, achieve in your job, a personal project – or maybe all of these, see what happens when you reach out.

If I’m struggling in winter, I can feel very alone. I think we can all identify with this, can’t we? “My family live two and four hours away. I don’t want to burden my friends as they have their own stuff to deal with. My colleagues aren’t the appropriate people to support me. I shouldn’t need anyone else’s support.” These are all the things I think at times.

Yet it is only me limiting the support available here if I think these things. I have a fantastic support network and I work to maintain it by keeping in touch and providing support with anything I can. I have close friends who I can talk to about anything and who accept me completely. I only have to pick up the phone to my family. I have great colleagues who I can speak with if I choose to. And in terms of achieving the goals I’ve set myself, as well as all the personal support, I’ve got some pretty great professional contacts I’ve made through the years!

Final thoughts…

There was so much that resonated with me while at the One Woman Conference, and in the days since. It got me thinking about the experience of SAD and Winter Blues. It strengthened my belief that if we allowed ourselves to just ‘be’ and feel how we feel more often, instead of beating ourselves up and pushing ourselves through, we’d feel so much better.

If you struggle with doing this, I recommend Paul Gilbert’s compassion work. I’ve mentioned it a few times in various posts because I believe it’s been one of the most helpful things I’ve done. There are still times when I get frustrated with myself though, so it’s a work in progress!

Our masculine ‘Yang’ energy is as essential to us as the feminine ‘Yin’ for both genders; we need to harness it in the right way and balance it better to maintain our physical and mental health. Winter is a time when we are all naturally programmed to hibernate more – and so we should let ourselves when we need to and can.

Happy hibernating! 🙂

– Neens –

Autumn anxiety symptoms with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Orange autumn leaf close up in Leazes Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, UKI find autumn a strange time. There’s so many things I love about it. The colours. The nip in the air on my walk to work that heralds the turn of the season. The cosiness of wrapping my hands around a hot chocolate while snuggling under a blanket. Allowing myself to hibernate a little as the dark nights draw in.

I find October in particular a challenge too, though. This year we’ve had an ‘Indian Summer’ again in the UK, which has been fantastic given how long it took summer to arrive this year! As you might have felt, autumn seemed to arrive in a fanfare. All of a sudden it seemed so much darker. There is a reason for this; you’re not just imagining it!

The autumn equinox this year was on 22 September. This is when we have the fastest sunsets. I think when we’re enjoying the sunny days that September often provides we don’t notice it as much. But a series of dull, grey days come October and it suddenly becomes very apparent! And of course, the clocks went back at the end of October, which is when a lot of people with SAD or Winter Blues start to struggle.

For the last three years I’ve had some weird kind of symptoms that pop up (now reliably), each October. I get heart palpitations. Sometimes my heart races as if I’ve just sprinted. Other times it thuds hard and dully as if it’s working overtime just to allow me to sit there peacefully. My doctor made the sensible conclusion that it was anxiety last year. I’ve never suffered with anxiety before, but I am close to several people who have and do.

However, I’m not convinced that’s what’s going on. For me it’s been a physical symptom only; it’s usually at odds with what I’m actually doing or feeling. The only anxiety I feel is ‘why am I getting these odd symptoms’! I notice it most when I’m sitting reading, my mind engaged in a pleasant story, or often as soon as I wake up. I am not in any way stressed or putting any physical exertion on my body at the time. Last year, I was job-hunting, so it was understandable I might have been stressed when I went to a job interview. But that’s the strange thing – it didn’t seem to happen or worsen then!

This year I thought I’d got away with it and put it down to a couple of odd years. But no, I hadn’t – it started up again a few weeks ago! This year, although it’s maddeningly distracting, I’m doing my best not to allow it to bother me. I figure it must be some strange SAD symptom that’s sprouted in me; my brain chemicals adapting to the rapid change in light levels.

I’m working on being more compassionate to myself and not getting annoyed with my symptoms – rather, just accepting them for what they are and getting on the best I can regardless. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Paul Gilbert’s work on compassion before, but it’s worth sharing again because I feel it’s been something that’s made a big difference to my day to day life.

I thought I’d share this with you so that if it’s a symptom you experience you can hopefully take some comfort in not being alone with it. I’d be interested in knowing if anyone else experiences this? The SADA committee of which I’m part doesn’t, though they too find October a struggle.

Now that we’re past bonfire night and into the Christmas build-up, remember to take care of yourself and allow yourself plenty of time to rest.

– Neens –