Many of us begin our day in the winter with a commute to work under the cover of darkness, before sitting inside under artificial lighting only to head back to the refuge of our home again in the dark. These shorter days, accompanied by a gloomier weather forecast, can lead you to become somewhat less cheerful than you are during the spring or summer. But this is much more than just the ‘winter blues’.
Recognised as a depressive illness linked to a lack of sunlight and shorter periods of daylight. Norman E. Rosenthal a South African author, psychiatrist and scientist in the 1980s first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder and pioneered the use of light therapy for its treatment.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, or the Winter Blues, is officially recognised by Doctors and Psychiatrists as a medical condition that is thought to affect 2 million people in the UK and Ireland and over 12 Million people across Northern Europe although from 10 to 20% of patients do not have any kind of symptoms related to it. It is a problem that affects more women than men, especially those who are between 40 and 55 years.
In the UK and Ireland we are more susceptible to SAD as we are situated in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere. As a result, we experience large changes in light levels between the summer and winter. We also experience periods of dark, gloomy weather which can reduce the amount of light we receive and therefore have a profound effect on our body clocks.
A combination of a change in seasonal light, our hectic lifestyles and the periods of darker days and poorer weather, can result in dramatic effects on our circadian
rhythms. As a direct consequence of these environmental and lifestyle factors more people than ever before are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder
The human body uses light cues, such as those provided by the sun, to time certain functions. Properly timed rhythms regulate mood, sleep, wake, appetite, digestion and energy. These daily internal cycles called ‘Circadian Rhythms’ sometimes fall out of time, meaning an unregulated body clock, resulting in the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Now with our hectic lifestyles, we often miss critical signals from the sun, and our body clocks suffer. Without proper morning light, our body clocks don’t produce the hormones we need to wake up and feel active. When we miss daytime light, we slump and become less productive. At night, we usually stay up hours after dark, causing sleep and mood problems. In fact, how we sleep, how active we are, and how we feel are all regulated by our body clock.
When your body clock doesn’t get the right light signals, you can feel tired, moody, and sluggish. But when our body clock does get the right type of light, your body produces active, energetic hormones and suppresses the negative, withdrawal ones. These hormones will help reset your sleep, mood, and energy cycles, so you sleep better at night and feel great during the day.
Examples of SAD Symptoms include:
- Lethargy, lacking in energy, unable to carry out a normal routine
- Sleep problems, finding it hard to stay awake during the day, but having disturbed nights
- Loss of libido not interested in physical contact
- Anxiety, inability to cope
- Social problems, irritability, not wanting to see people
- Depression, feelings of gloom and despondency for no apparent reason
- Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, leading to weight gain
- It is always important to consult your doctor if you believe you have SAD as it may be another condition.
It is always important to consult your doctor if you believe you have SAD as it may be another condition.
So Now we know, what can we do?
As SAD symptoms are mainly triggered by light, it makes sense to use light to help alleviate them. The easiest way to do this is with light therapy which usually comes in the form of a light box. Light therapy works by using a powerful light to deliver light right to the back of the eye. This then lowers your Melatonin levels and increases your Serotonin production which will lessen the symptoms of SAD.
Talking treatments, such as hypnosis or life coaching can be very useful to help you manage the symptoms of SAD and recognise other factors that may be adding to your feelings of depression.
While phototherapy and talking therapies can be very beneficial to combating the symptoms of SAD, also consider receiving an integrative therapy treatment. Relaxation is improved when endorphins, serotonin and dopamine levels increase. Within a session, the autonomic nervous system is stimulated. The autonomic nervous system stimulates the release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which often act as neurotransmitters. Endorphins, serotonin and dopamine can give a person a feeling of happiness, relief of anxiety, and a sense of well-being. An integrative therapeutic session encourages the release of the positive hormones to help decrease anxiety and prevent depression to encourage an increase in relaxation, motivation and provide a sense of wellbeing.
How Massage Can Help You Overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression which can include symptoms of anxiety, sleep disturbances, general body pain and lack of energy. These symptoms make normal functioning difficult, bringing on stress. Stress and depression bring about an increase in cortisol, which further exacerbates the problems. Massage therapy has been shown to have a positive impact on most of these symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
Massage therapy has been shown to improve sleep quality in cancer patients, in children and in those suffering from both fibromyalgia and those with depression. Clinical trials have also proven that massage therapy can significantly reduce depression and anxiety for those suffering from a range of conditions, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce cortisol, to lower heart rate and improve blood pressure.
Conversely, massage has been proven to increase energy by way of increased circulation. In addition, massage therapy offers clients with SAD the benefit of human touch at a time when it is most needed. Overall, massage therapy has been proven in a variety of studies to have a positive impact on both the individual symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, general pain and lethargy) and have a positive impact on clients diagnosed with SAD specifically.
Everyone suffers a bit of moodiness and mild malaise during the winter months, but when those symptoms begin to impact the quality and quantity of our activities of daily life, getting out of bed at all can become a monumental task. When sadness and lethargy begin to take over, it can be difficult to dig out of the depression that can result. Getting regular exercise, daily exposure to sunlight and massage therapy are three things that can be done to reduce symptoms of depression, improve mood and energy, and counteract this seasonal condition.