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How can I manage SAD symptoms? Part Two – dawn simulators

This is part two of ‘How can I manage SAD symptoms’, looking at another type of light therapy – dawn simulators. I’ve also discussed making the decision to invest in light therapy here.

Part one covered the main kind of light therapy that is recommended for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues – bright light therapy, which is delivered by a SAD light. In part three, I’ll cover medication and talking therapies. Then in part four, we’ll take a look at some lifestyle strategies that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Dawn Simulators

This is Lumie’s video about dawn simulators (also known as wake up lights):

There are other manufacturers of dawn simulators, but I have only had Lumie models. I use the basic model, the Bodyclock STARTER 30. However, they have a full range that give you more functionality if you want it. I use my dawn simulator every day, even in summer. I use black-out curtains to help keep a good sleep/wake cycle.

As you can see, a dawn simulator prepares your body for waking up by gradually raising the light level in your room. The artificial sunrise provides a cue for your body to reduce production of the sleep hormone melatonin and to start gradually increasing the production of cortisol, which gives you some ‘get-up-and-go’. You might find my earlier post, ‘Why do we suffer from SAD?’ interesting too.

Dawn simulators don’t reach the same light intensity as a SAD light. Although they’re great for helping you to wake up in a more natural way, they won’t treat all of your SAD symptoms.

Do dawn simulators work?

Mary Poppins dancing and singing - maybe she used dawn simulatorsI’m not going to tell you that I leap out of bed in the depths of winter à la Mary Poppins just from using my dawn simulator alone. I’ll tell you some other things I do in the fourth part of this series which helps me. What I will say is that it is a really lovely way to wake up, feeling like you’re ready to be awake. It also means your room is light and you’re less likely to have an accident from stumbling around the room in the dark! I recommend dawn simulators to absolutely everyone, regardless of whether they suffer from SAD or not.

I honestly couldn’t go back to a traditional alarm clock now. Being shocked out of sleep in the pitch black by a wailing alarm – no thanks! In my mind, it makes no sense to wake up this way because your stress response activates. Think about it – a loud noise that rips you out of sleep… Of course your body’s going to get ready to fight or flee! It’s just not a great way to start your day, is it?

My basic model has a fixed duration sunrise, sunset and alarm features. For the sunrise, you simply set your alarm for the time you want to get up. So if you set the alarm for 6.30am, it will come on very dimly at 6.00am. It then gradually brightens over 30 minutes. Other models have adjustable time periods.

There’s a back-up beeper for peace of mind, but I usually wake a moment before it goes off. When it does, it isn’t a shock because my body’s already awake – if that makes sense? More expensive models have functionality to select the sound you wake up to.

The sunset function of the dawn simulator is nice too, allowing me to wind down and the room to gradually darken as I drop off to sleep. Zzzzzz 🙂

Investing in light therapy

Are dawn simulators and SAD lights worth the investmentI appreciate that paying around £100+ for a SAD light and another £60+ for a dawn simulator seems like a lot. Personally, I would pay many times this, for the huge difference that light therapy has made to my quality of life! Being curious what this worked out at per day, I’ve done some very rough calculations:

I recently replaced the original light box I bought when I was first diagnosed, treating myself to a more powerful Lumie Brazil. So, at £295.65 in total, my two big lights and my small LED light I use at work, have cost me about £0.12 per day. This is based on using them daily for six months over 13 years. That will continue to drop as I only bought the Brazil last year.

I also replaced my original dawn simulator a few years ago. I spent £120 over 12 years. So used every day, I have paid about £0.03 per day for my lovely wake-up lights! 😀

Will light therapy work for me?

One of the main concerns when deciding whether to buy a SAD light or dawn simulator is whether they’ll work for you. If you don’t want to buy outright, you can hire SAD lights and dawn simulators, from e.g. the SAD Shop. Or, you could buy a product direct from a manufacturer, who may give you a money-back guarantee. Lumie give you 30 days and Philips give you 28 days’ free home trial. Most people will notice their symptoms improve in around a week or two. This would give you plenty of time to see if the products are helpful for you.

Giving people an experience of light therapy was behind my reason for launching the Little Light Room events. I wanted people to be able to experience it for themselves and ask me any questions.

Given that light therapy is the first line of recommended treatment for SAD and Winter Blues, I really would encourage you to invest in at least a SAD light if you can. If light therapy works for you, you’ll be amazed by the difference it makes to your quality of life.

And if you find light therapy doesn’t work for you? Well then, firstly you have my sympathies. There are other treatments you can try, such as medication and talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – look out for more on these in part three.

What’s your experience with light therapy? Have you tried a dawn simulator? Have you any tips and tricks of your own to share?

Neens 🙂

Image credits:
Mary Poppins: http://www.thefancarpet.com/uploaded_assets/images/gallery/919/Mary_Poppins_10976_Medium.jpg
Coins in hand: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/coins-in-hand-1245246 

Winter Solstice 2016

Hey, we made it!! 😀 We’re finally here at the shortest day of the year. I always celebrate Winter Solstice because little by little, the days are lengthening from now. We’ll gradually enjoy more natural light in our days.

It takes a while for there to be a noticeable difference though, doesn’t it? January and February can be really challenging months for SAD and Winter Blues sufferers, especially when we get many dull days that make us not want to go out, rather than the crisp winter days that we’d like to step out in.

So, I thought now might be a good time to give you some tips based on my own personal experience and what I’ve learned about navigating winter.

Enjoy the beauty around you

frost on autumnal leavesWinter sun rises. Frosty grass and eery fog. Silhouetted bare trees against a dip-dye clear sky. Looking for stars. Appreciating the moon. Rainbows.

If you’re walking along (or any other form of travelling!), with your mind racing with lots of different thoughts, then it’s easy to get into a funk.

When you can remember to do it, try switching your focus to your surroundings and take pleasure in the small details of life.

Dress appropriately

I know this might seem an odd one, but if you’re dressed in a way that the weather doesn’t affect you so much, your mood won’t be affected so much when you’re out in the elements. There’s nothing like being battered by hailstones and arriving somewhere with soaking feet to make you feel miserable, is there? So pay attention to the weather forecast and plan ahead. Invest in waterproof clothing and footwear.

I haven’t always done this, feeling like I can make my boots last longer as they are otherwise okay, apart from letting water in. It is just horrible squelching around though, and it’s not good for me, so I’ve finally learned to be kind to myself and stop doing this! On that same note, I’ve also learned to treat myself to a taxi now and then instead of battling the elements – especially when I want to arrive looking respectable, instead of like I’ve been dragged backwards through a hedge!

Change the dialogue

On a similar note, see if you can change the way you think about the weather. I walk out in the elements every day that I need to be somewhere, whatever the weather is doing (except for the odd taxi treat!). I’ve learned that my experience will often be dictated by how I’m thinking about the weather. If I think ‘urgh this is horrible, it’s so cold and wet and windy’ then I’m going to feel sorry for myself having to walk in it. So I change the dialogue and say instead ‘this is refreshing!’ or I laugh at myself when I’m getting blown to work, or having to ice-skate down the hill.

This doesn’t come naturally, obviously! My first thought often is ‘urgh!’, but I try to change it quickly. I had to do it last night. There was an icy, strong wind and I was walking along saying in my head ‘oh wow, this is crisp!’ If all else fails, I focus on how nice it will feel when I get inside, into the warmth.

Embrace winter

Perhaps the biggest lesson that I can share with you is to be gentle with yourself. It really is tough, suffering with SAD.

This is the first year that I feel I’ve embraced winter and not fought with it so much. I think that the talk about women’s energy being cyclical at the One Woman Conference resonated with me. It gave me permission to say to myself, ‘it’s okay to hibernate more in winter and take time for myself.’

What’s interesting is I feel I’ve had more energy this winter than in the past. I’ve used it differently. Instead of pushing myself constantly to be out and socialising, running around getting stuff done, I’ve been using the time to plan. I’ve had whole weekends operating mostly from my bedroom, where it is lightest, and just doing what I fancy. That might be watching a self-development video and doing exercises, doing some work on the Little Light Room planning, catching up on messages from family and friends, or just reading for pleasure.

Wishing you…

…A fantastic festive break, whatever you’re doing. I hope that you take some rest, spend time with those you love and be gentle with yourself.

Thanks for your support of the Little Light Room this year. See you next year!

-Neens x-

Christmas Calm: Navigating the Festive Season with SAD and Winter Blues

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…! If that is making you groan and want to go back to bed, you’re not alone! I’ve got some tips for you to help you achieve Christmas Calm and have you floating about in a zen-like state… Well – maybe not that actually, but not the frazzled, overwhelmed state that you might recognise, at least! 😉

Grab yourself a cuppa or a glass of something nice while you read this one, because, y’know… why not?

Drop the guilt

If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s beating ourselves up for all the things we haven’t done. Instead of seeing all of the things we have achieved, we see what’s missing. This is where compassion comes in. Trust that you’re doing your best and so is everyone else. You wouldn’t point your finger at a friend and tell him or her that they’re a failure, would you? Don’t do it to yourself, either.

There is a lot of pressure on to have ‘the perfect Christmas’. We think it’s driven by existing expectations, the plans of others and us comparing ourselves unfavourably, and of course, marketing. However, what all these things have in common is that they are actually your own thoughts about them that make you feel guilty; you think that you’re not measuring up. What if you instead chose to be inspired and excited by the things you see or hear about instead of thinking you can’t measure up?

So, pay attention to that critical inner voice and what it’s saying. Challenge it. Think of why what it’s saying isn’t true. Do you really always leave everything to the last minute? When have you planned ahead successfully? If you can find even one instance when what your critical inner voice is saying isn’t true, then you can ignore whatever it has to say.

This technique is founded in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is based on the notion that your thoughts create your feelings and lead to your behaviours. You can read more about it on the NHS website.

I know that you might be thinking ‘well it’s okay for you to say that, but I just feel how I feel’. I used to think the same when people said these things to me too, but a mixture of CBT and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) has helped me a lot. If you find yourself plagued by the critical inner voice a lot, then you can often get therapies on the NHS, so check within your area.

Make a plan – and a budget

Speaking of planning ahead successfully… Yes, some people have their Christmas shopping all wrapped up by September. Bravo them! But they’ve still had to do the same decision-making, shopping, wrapping, etc. that you’re going to do.

Christmas calm: standing still in a busy marketIt doesn’t matter when you do it. It can be less harried to do it earlier, but there are ways to reduce your exposure to the hussle and bustle. Shopping later in the evening or early in the day, at out of town shops, or online can all help.

So, in true Christmas fashion, if Santa makes a list, then so can you! Who’s been naughty or nice? And what gift would you like to give them?

You can indicate a rough budget too, so you don’t stress yourself by overspending. It’s so easy to do, isn’t it?

Now think about all the other things you need to do. Order the turkey. Buy cards and wrapping. Put decorations up. Whatever you need to do, get it all down in a list. You can also assign it a priority to help you with the next tip!

If you like, you can use my Christmas Calm planner template to either plan or take stock where you’ve got to; I hope it helps! To make your own copy of this, got to file > make a copy and it should save in your own Google Drive. Otherwise if you’re not a Google account holder, you can just copy the headings and paste them into whatever spreadsheet software you use.

Downsize your Christmas

Okay, so have a look again at your list. How is it making you feel? Excited? Overwhelmed? Stressed?

What things can you cross off that aren’t really necessary for you to do? What things on that list won’t make a real difference to your or your loved ones’ enjoyment of Christmas? Maybe you don’t really need to buy charger plates and more table decorations? Maybe there’s no need to buy a new TV right now? Can you simplify dinner a bit? Are all the social engagements you were planning going to make you happy?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the feeling that you need to make sure that Christmas is ‘perfect’ – and to shoulder all that burden yourself.

Part of downsizing for you might be to share the burden around a bit more. Can family members or friends take on some of the tasks on your list? Is there any they might actually enjoy?

Remember that the best thing you can give your family and friends this Christmas is your time and energy. If you’re completely spent by the time the festive season comes round, then you’re not going to be able to do that. And you’ll probably beat yourself up for that too…

So think about what’s really necessary and do those things first. The rest is nice-to-haves, if you have time and energy to complete them. Or you might snuggle up on the sofa with a Christmas film with your family instead! 🙂

Make it a pleasure

Isn’t it funny how we run around, head-down, on a mission to prepare for Christmas? We’re so busy working towards making the ‘big event’ enjoyable that we forget to enjoy the preparations.

Christmas calm: taking time out with a coffeeI know you’re busy and might feel you don’t have time to go get a coffee mid-shop. You will feel so much better if you do though; give yourself breaks and your shopping time will be more productive.

Slow down and enjoy the lights. Take a taxi if you are overloaded with your Christmas booty. Allow yourself to wander around and take in the scents and sounds of a market.

There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness and if you have ever tried to practice it, you have probably seen its benefits. Christmas Calm will be more of a possibility if you stay ‘in the moment’. Do your best to focus on enjoying what you’re doing right now, rather than allowing your mind to run amok and make you anxious with all the things you have to do.

Christmas Calm: all in the mind?

I don’t know what your Christmas to-do list looks like. You might be reading this post thinking ‘that’s all right for you to say, but I have sooo much to do!’ I don’t blame you; I would probably think the same.

But consider this: you have at least some of it to do anyway unless you decide you’re cancelling Christmas! So you can either enjoy the experience or find it a hassle and a pain. You can change your experience of it by choosing how you view it. Try it out and let me know how you get on?

Wishing you an enjoyable festive run-up! Remember when we get to Christmas the days are getting longer and lighter again too! 🙂

– Neens –

Image credits:

Coffee: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/coffee-1559191
Still lady: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/stillness-in-time-1251186

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 ZestMy 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 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 –

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 –

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

Happy Winter Solstice 2015… and winter sun break

Good morning! A very, very happy Winter Solstice and festive greetings to you! 🙂

I hope that you’re well and not feeling too frazzled in the run up to Christmas? Well, Winter Solstice is finally here and I’m as always, probably as excited by the prospect of lengthening days as I am by the prospect of a jolly old man in red visiting all the good people in the world! I’m looking forward to spending time with family and friends in Leeds, and back in Newcastle before I start a new job in the New Year. It’s been a very exciting few weeks!

I promised you I’d write and tell you how I felt after having a winter break at the end of November. I thought I’d wait until Solstice to really assess this. And the conclusion? I would go earlier or later.

I had a wonderful time in Gran Canaria with one of my best friends and we had loads of fun. A great blend of sightseeing, partying until the wee hours and relaxing… and of course plenty of eating and drinking! 🙂

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The bright sunshine and feeling warmth on my skin again was as lovely as I’d been anticipating. But coming back to the darkest time of the year in the UK was a shock to my system I think. It was rainy and dull for a few days upon my return and my first day back felt very weird.

This wasn’t my first winter sunshine break; I’ve been to Gran Canaria in February many years ago, and I was in Dubai in January this year. I think both of those were better timings as they gave me a little boost as the days were lengthening. Alternatively, in future, I’ll go away in late September to mid-October before the days shorten too much. This is what a couple of my colleagues at SADA have done and they’ve found it helpful. I’d be interested to hear what other people think?

I hope that you have a fantastic festive break with your loved ones. Have some well-deserved rest, do the things that make you smile, keep up your light therapy (easy to neglect when out of your routine) and why not take the opportunity to get out in natural daylight come rain or shine for a walk or cycle?

With very best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful 2016,

– Neens x –

Leaving on a jet plane…

Hello!

Gran CanariaI’m heading for warmer and hopefully sunnier climes. It’s the first time I’ve done a winter break this side of Christmas and I’m not sure how it’s going to feel when I get back. But I’m taking the risk!! 😉

Speaking to other people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there’s mixed views whether a sunshine break can be good. Some say that it really helps them get through the winter, giving them a nice little boost. Others say that coming back to the UK winter in all its glory makes them feel worse.

So, I’d be interested to hear what other people think? Have you been on winter breaks either side of Christmas? If so, has it made your SAD or Winter Blues better or worse?

I’m going with a friend and we’re planning to have a nice mix of relaxing, sightseeing and girly nights out, so I’m super excited!

I’ve treated myself to a new, powerful SAD light that should have arrived by the time I return and I’m hoping that I can re-settle into my light routine well when I get back. I’m also calculating that there’ll only be three weeks until the winter solstice and I have nice things planned in the run up to Christmas. I know that it takes a while after the solstice to make an appreciable difference in the amount of light and I do struggle at times in January and February, but something about knowing that we’re heading in the right direction towards more light helps me. Do you feel the same?

Anyway, have a great week and I’ll see you when I’m back and let you know my thoughts on returning from a pre-Christmas winter break.

– Neens –