Tag Archives: Why SAD

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 many™ 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 –

Why do we suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Hello there! I hope you’re well and getting into the swing of your light routine? Finally, here is instalment number two of my ‘who, why, what, where, when and how’ of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues. It’s another long one, but I hope you’ll find it interesting! 😀

In this post I’ll be covering a couple of the accepted theories of why people get SAD and Winter Blues / Winter Depression. This is my own understanding, based on what I’ve read over the years and a little background reading I’ve done for this post. It’s taken me quite a while to write, as I keep changing my mind what to put in! I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much info, but wanted to give you enough too. As always, do let me know what you think?

Do we actually know what causes SAD and Winter Blues?

In short, no. The first thing to say is that nobody seems to really know what causes SAD and Winter Blues! There’s a lot of theories, but it’s likely that there’s a complex interplay of factors that determine whether an individual develops SAD or not.

The most commonly held theory is that a lack of exposure to daylight in the late autumn to early spring months affects the brain’s production of the hormone melatonin and the neurotransmitter serotonin.

The body has an internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. It regulates sleep/wake cycles, appetite, digestion, mood and many other functions. This explains why SAD affects us in so many different ways.

What we have to remember is that we are animals and in evolutionary terms our bodies haven’t caught up with the lifestyles we’ve adopted as humans. Before we learned to artificially light our homes, people went to bed when it became dark and woke when the sun rose. They also spent a lot more time outdoors and had more physical jobs.

 

SAD and melatonin

The brain responds to decreased light by increasing production of the hormone melatonin, which signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. In the morning, when light reaches the eyes, melatonin levels begin to decrease and the hormone cortisol is released. This gives us the get-up-and-go that we need to start the day.

Red traditional alarm clock - these can be difficult for SAD sufferersIn the depths of winter, when many of us need to get up while it’s still dark, the body hasn’t received the correct signals to wake up. This is why it can be a real wrench to get up and you may feel shocked out of sleep by a traditional alarm clock – your body simply isn’t ready to be awake! When you think about it, this way of waking is likely to activate your fight or flight response. You wake up stressed before you’ve even started your day! A dawn simulator can help with this, waking you up in a more natural way.

But the problem isn’t only to do with waking. On very dull days, your levels of melatonin can stay high throughout the day, leading to those feelings of lethargy and sleepiness that you might recognise all-too-well. Before I was diagnosed with SAD, I would return from college and want to go straight to bed – I couldn’t keep my eyes open!

SAD and serotonin

The neurotransmitter, serotonin, is also thought to have a key role to play in SAD, as it appears to in other types of depression. Researchers have found that levels of serotonin can vary from day-to-day and across the year, with levels markedly lower in winter. People with lower levels of serotonin appear to be more likely to experience symptoms of all kinds of depression.

Reading about how to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs (Dr. Simon N. Young, 2007), this theory makes sense to me. If you’re anything like me, in winter you’ll be less likely to go outside at lunchtime, or whenever. Often eating at my desk means I move my bones less, get less natural light and I’m probably eating stodge, too. Carb cravings are a common symptom. I mean – who really fancies a salad in the middle of winter? Certainly not me! Haha – yes, yes, I’m aware that I don’t always follow my own advice! 😀

So, if light, exercise and a healthy diet are major natural ways of increasing serotonin production, then it would seem to follow that not doing/having these things may cause you to feel rubbish. At least, that’s how I understand it! 

Some further reading

As always, if you haven’t already, I’d recommend you have a look at the following excellent articles about SAD. They explain a bit more of the why in more medical terms than I have done:
NHS
Mind

If you’re interested in doing a bit more digging around into theory, here’s a few other theories that caught my eye:

People who suffer from SAD have an ‘unhelpful’ way of controlling serotonin –
Seasonal difference in brain serotonin transporter binding predicts symptom severity in patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder – Mahon et al (2014)

People who suffer from SAD may have retinal sensitivity anomalies –
Evidence of a Biological Effect of Light Therapy on the Retina of Patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder – Marie-Pier Lavoie,Raymond W. Lam,Guylain Bouchard,Alexandre Sasseville,Marie-Claude Charron,Anne-Marie Gagné,Philippe Tremblay,Marie-Josée Filteau,Marc Hébert (2009), Biological Psychiatry, Elsevier

People who suffer from SAD have lower levels of cortisol production in winter –
Seasonal differences in the diurnal pattern of cortisol secretion in healthy participants and those with self-assessed seasonal affective disorder – Thorn, Lisa and Evans, Philip D. and Cannon, Anne and Hucklebridge, Frank and Clow, Angela (2011), Psychoneuroendocrinology

An ongoing debate…

There’s a lot of debate still ongoing, though, as many of the theories don’t give absolute or satisfactory answers. So for example, suppressing melatonin doesn’t ‘cure’ SAD. Anti-depressants don’t work for everybody. Light therapy works for around 85% of people. It really does seem that individual differences can play a big part. So you may be more at risk of developing SAD if you or your family have a history of depression, or if you’ve been under chronic or sudden stress. If you suffer from depression that isn’t seasonal, it can feel worse in the winter.

Having said that, there does seem to be strong evidence to support the theories surrounding melatonin and serotonin having a key role to play. Correspondingly, there’s also strong evidence to support light therapy. If you want to do some more reading still, have a look at Lumie’s page of research abstracts. SADA members also receive monthly e-bulletins and longer newsletters three times per year which contain scientific news on SAD and Winter Blues.

I hope that this will have been a helpful post for you. Do you think there’s anything I need to add? What other theories have you read?

Take care,

– Neens –

Image credit
Alarm clock: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/alarm-clock-1621256