My first winter in Copenhagen I turned up at my acupuncturists/naturopath and burst in to tears. I had no idea why, and this had been going on and off for the past week or so. I was confounded as to what to do, and was exhausted.
Her diagnosis.... SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder) which is a condition where people with normal mental health can experience depression.
Most symptoms start in Autumn and continue through into Winter, so right about now.... especially now the clocks have just gone back.
It is more strongly experienced by people living further from the equator. Even the most seasoned of Scandinavians has a reaction to the lack of light.
So before you brush off any sadness or lethargy as winter blues, and if you are feeling unnaturally depressed for days on end, it may be time to talk to your health carer about SAD.
The key indicators are changes in appetite and sleep patterns, plus a lack of interest in normal activity. However I have listed some of the other symptoms below:
* Problems with sleeping and insomnia and or/ oversleeping and difficulty waking
* overeating and weight gain
* lack of energy
* difficulty completing tasks
* difficulty concentrating
* feeling pessimistic
* feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
* withdrawal from friends, family and normal social activities
* decreased sex drive
* leaden feelings in the arms and legs
The causes are lack of exposure to light, which interrupts the biological clock, a drop in serotonin levels from reduced sunlight that can increase depression, and a drop in melatonin levels which regulates sleep patterns and mood.
It can be treated relatively quickly. However left undiagnosed for a long time can lead to suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, developing work problems and substance abuse.
I was lucky it was picked up fairly quickly, and for me the key was light therapy, which is the most common recommended treatment for SAD, and works in 80% of cases.
This entails sitting every day in front of a light box for approximately 15 - 30 mins, which mimics outside light. It is best used in the morning, and you can have results within a week, maybe slightly longer, up to 3 weeks, if the condition has been left untreated for a long period of time.
Please note it is very important to NOT look directly into the light source. I tend to put mine beside my computer so it is at an angle and I can work, while it works its magic.
I use Square One, which is a blue light therapy. It can also act as an alarm clock to wake you in the morning, as well as on your desk.
In Denmark you can buy them here.
You can also buy on Amazon
Other treatments for SAD
* Although it is minimal daylight, try getting out as often as possible.
* Exercise - get out for a brisk walk even if it is cold.
* Melatonin can also be helpful. This often needs to be prescribed by your doctor, although I know it can be bought over the counter in the US. This can help regulate your sleep and your mood. (also great for jet lag)
* Keep up your Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in walnuts, flaxseed and flax oil.
* Some may find acupuncture beneficial.
* Meditation is great anytime of year but particularly during periods like this.
* St John's Wort is a herb often used to treat depression.
* Low levels of Vitamin D can also be linked to SAD. I wrote on this a couple of weeks back. http://www.sachastewart.net/blog/2014/10/16/hello-sunshine
So while we are rugging up and getting cosy, remember to take SAD into consideration and beat those dark winter days.
(Please Note: I have focused mainly on the colder seasons here for the purposes of this article, however it can also affect people in Spring/Summer with slightly different ailments)