Seasonal affective disorder: Changing your perception in 2020

We can all remember enjoying the great weather that we had over the summer. Long walks in the evenings, lunchtimes and working in the garden with your sunglasses on. Despite what was happening in the world, you could forget for a while, whilst discovering new places to explore right on your doorstep.

The darker winter months can be a challenging time for many at the best of times. And when we have been watching the seasons change from our homes, it feels a stark contrast from warm days and balmy nights.

More than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. The most common issues affecting wellbeing are: worry about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%). (1)

With many people working from home for several months, it could feel as though it’s about to hit hard. The range of activities has already been limited with not being able to meet friends or family as often as we would like. We might have been worried about eating or drinking out, so have limited socializing to the odd trip to a cafe outdoors or a walk in the local park.

It’s an unfortunate fact that around 3 in 100 (2) people suffer from what is commonly referred to as SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  A condition that manifests itself as feeling particularly low or experiencing symptoms of deprgession during the winter months.

Many of us have already found ourselves frequently saying. “I’m dreading the winter months”. In the middle of a lockdown and nowhere to go but a brightly lit supermarket or a walk in the dark after you finish work. What can you do to ensure that your mental health is in a good place and you are well prepared for the months ahead?

 

Change your perception

Can you shift your perception of what you see and feel about winter? What are the best things about this time of year? What gives you a warm glow apart from a large glass of red and looking at a One Direction calendar, pretending it’s a Christmas present for your niece?

We don’t need to feel guilty about sitting in our pyjamas, binge-watching a Netflix series. And that’s just on a Monday. Rest and relaxation are an important aspect of recharging and setting us up for springtime.

It’s acceptable to drink hot chocolate and eat chocolate at the same time. Small amounts of treats are important to make us feel good.

We can find ourselves kicking big piles of autumnal leaves, checking that no-one is looking first. Splashing in puddles is also a way to enjoy time with your kids. (Or pretend you’re with kids if you want to do it anyway!).

We can start planning a spring break, ready to beat off the January blues and giving ourselves something to look forward to. We can enjoy looking at Christmas gifts for others and dropping some heavy hints about things for ourselves.

We can go out for frosty, wintry walks wrapped up in your favorite scarf and bobble hat. More reasons to drink hot chocolate and get in to warm up nice and cozy under a blanket and back in your pyjamas!

When you change the way you look at things, they appear different and you can feel differently about them.

How can you keep yourself feeling positive and out of the winter slump?

 

10 ways in which you can turn your gloom into glee

 

  1. If you’ve been going for walks then don’t put them off because of the weather. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear! If you can work flexibly, plan a walk in the day and work half an hour later.
  2. If the news and social media are getting you down, because of the negative messages, limit your time and exposure to them. Make a determined effort to switch off, take apps off your mobile and have a scheduled time that you stick to.
  3. It’s ok to feel a natural desire to slow down. We are designed to flow with the seasons, but we can often fight against this natural response. Know that it’s normal to want to retreat in the winter months, as nature does. Allow yourself time to rest and retreat.
  4. Make a diary date to check in with a friend and focus on how they are. Or consider volunteering to check up on someone vulnerable. Doing something for someone else will always lift your spirits. If you have the time you could volunteer to be a Check-in and Chat Volunteer for the NHS. You can make yourself available only when you have the time, so there is no heavy commitment.
  5. Think of activities you can do in the evenings. Have you always wanted to write a book, knit a scarf, make your own cards? Anything creative will soothe your worries away and give you a sense of achievement and something to take your mind off negative thoughts.
  6. Practise self-care, something that’s a bit of a treat or luxury. Nice skincare, a long soak in the bath, sitting quietly reading a book. Doing whatever makes you feel good will help you have a contrast to not feeling good about yourself.
  7. Consider taking supplementary vitamins to strengthen your immune system and prevent any deficiencies. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, approximately 1 in 5 people have a vitamin D deficiency as the levels that normally come from the sun are not enough in winter in this country. Also, make sure your intake of Vitamin C through fruit and vegetables and consider taking echinacea as well as a defense against colds.
  8. Do an online exercise class such as yoga, pilates or tai-chi. It is relaxing and allows you to focus on something else apart from your anxieties and worries. If you’ve not been moving as much due to lockdown or sitting in a poor posture, then stretching will help to prevent muscle aches and pains as well as relieving symptoms of stress.
  9. Plan something nice for a future date. Book a weekend break, your favorite restaurant or an activity you’ve always wanted to try. Even if you have to move the date, it will give you something to look forward to and give you the feelings of excitement, when something is coming up. 
  10. Write a handwritten letter to someone you know or even someone famous that you’ve always admired. Have no expectations of a reply, but you might be pleasantly surprised! Focus on how it might make that person feel to be on the receiving end. You could even gift membership of The Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society to encourage someone else to do the same.

 

It might be hard when it’s dark outside at 4.30 pm and you can see the moon. Once you take control of how you want to feel and owning how you feel right now, then you can take action to change things for the better. The effects will be positive not just on yourself, but those around you and everyone you come into contact with. Yes, even on your 6th Zoom meeting of the day!

 

If you believe that you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, consult your GP and if you need immediate assistance, here are some services that are available.

 

Samaritans
116 123 (UK and ROI) This helpline is free for you to call and talk to someone.
https://www.samaritans.org/

 

NHS Services has a list of where to get urgent help for mental health.

 

Mind

https://www.mind.org.uk/

Click on the yellow ‘Get help now’ button at the top left of the page. This is a tool that is designed to help you understand what’s happening to you and how you can help yourself. If you think you might harm yourself or are worried someone else might come to immediate harm, call the emergency services on 999.

 

Sources:

1.The Health Foundation https://www.health.org.uk/news-and-comment/blogs/emerging-evidence-on-covid-19s-impact-on-mental-health-and-health?gclid=CjwKCAiAzNj9BRBDEiwAPsL0d8nNFsD7qRfLyYDZvobjwV7Z0dvT3CdS-DANdB6pNtAgWlKYBvImzhoClr8QAvD_BwE

2.Bupa website https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/mental-health/sad#:~:text=If%20your%20sleep%20patterns%2C%20appetite,children%20can%20be%20affected%20too.

 

About the author – Louise Hallam 

Louise is the founder of Still Calm, an organization offering a holistic solution to the challenges of giving C-suite executives, Directors and Senior Managers advanced and optimum wellbeing.

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