self-care @ kuckian
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
My Cheat sheet
11th september, 2021
Sometimes known as "winter depression" SAD is a type of depression that generally follows a seasonal pattern.
It's estimated about 0.5-3% of people suffer from SAD, and it typically lasts for about 40% of the year (of course, this can vary from climate to climate).
I'm passionate about this topic because it's something I have struggled with throughout my own life, but over the years I have certainly developed some tricks and 'hacks' which have made it a lot easier for me, personally, although it is by no means a 'cure' or substitute for seeking proper medical care if you believe you're suffering from SAD.
Here are some symptoms associated with SAD:
- Sleeping longer than usual, and finding it difficult to get up in the morning
- A persistent, low mood
- A strong feeling of guilt, despair and worthlessness.
- Feeling low-energy, low-mood and often sleepy during the day (every day).
- Craving 'unheathy' foods and as such, gaining weight
The severity of these symptoms vary from person to person, but make no mistake - SAD can cripple some without at least some treatment and guidance. Ticking all of the boxes above is by no means enough to make a definitive diagnosis of SAD since these symptoms can be common in many other health concerns.
The Impact of SAD
When something effects me emotionally, I find it can help me to take it apart scientifically to understand, with perspective, how the issue effects humans a whole and not just myself. This helps me better understand what I'm dealing with, why I'm feeling what I'm feeling, and what I can do to make life easier. That's what I'm going to do in this article.
When you think of SAD, one of the most well-known 'treatments' is light therapy. This involves spending a good amount of time each day sat in front of a calibrated light which emits a specific wavelength of light.
The wavelength required is specific because we have light receptors in the back of our eyes (melanopsin photoreceptors) which have developed to specifically detect certain 'temperatures' of light (measured in kelvin, this is how 'warm' (orange) or 'cool' (blue) the light is). This stimulus has an effect on the secretion of melatonin in our blood streams (a hormone which 'sets' our body clock/circadian rhythm)
In terms of warm and cool light - think about office lighting. It's kind of "blue" compared to a cosy, open fire. The cooler light keeps people awake and focused whilst "warm" amber light helps people relax. Think sunrise vs sunset and the color of the sky.
Now, there is still ongoing research into which type of light is better - a bright white type (a mixture of the rainbow which emulates sunlight) or narrow-band blue light. But let me tell you - lighting is so important if you suffer from SAD.
One of the best treatments I've learnt over the years is to really control the light your come into contact with. Having a bulb hanging on the ceiling isn't enough - I fill my room with multiple lights at different heights and I pick specific temperatures.
Since I have a professional production studio in my Design Haus for filming the wonderful beauty campaigns you see here for Kuckian Beauty, I have lights which have 'temperature' and brightness control. This means I can make the light 'warm' (orange), 'cold' (blue) or in-between. I purchased these for around £40/$50 each. Good investment for me personally, although these are NOT 'certified' SAD lights which emit high lumens of that specific narrow-band blue.
If you'd like to read more into the differences between full-spectrum and blue light therapy, I recommend taking a look at this article. Blue light is what's recommended - but I personally find that using really bright "warm sunlight" temperatures during the day can help me. In the morning, I go with cool and bright. At night, I make it 'warmer' and darker, until bed time when I use a dim magenta light for the last hour.
I use an amazing free app on my computer called f.lux (linked here) which automatically makes the screen orange and cuts the blue light in the evening. This, again, is linked to those blue-light receptors in our eyes which are partially responsible for our body clock. I have the same thing on my phone, and I avoid as much blue light as possible in the 2-3 hours before bed. As Tesco says, 'every little helps'.
It makes it feel like you're in the sun. Personally, I feel like it helps me build a 'mental rhythm' of the day when the world outside doesn't.
What the onset of SAD can feel like (my experience)
September 10th was the date it hit me this year. It was like a train. I was not prepared. I want to share the exact feelings I got, incase this is all new to you and you're wondering what it's like for other people.
- I got a pain in the right of my chest by my heart. I suddenly developed an anxiety which would not fade with meditation, relaxation or sleep. My heart rate increased and stayed at that higher level, as did my breathing (although nothing too crazy).
- I suddenly got this feeling of intense despair - I found myself with tears in my eyes a couple of times throughout the day despite nothing happening.
- I got a really strong sense of low self-worth. Suddenly I felt like one of my closest friends didn't care about me anymore. I became irritable, lonely, and I didn't want to talk to anyone around me.
Something I think is really important in fighting the symptoms is always trying your absolute hardest to stay positive. When the negative feelings come, I dissect them instantly. I pull them apart and try to understand where they're coming from/what triggered them
Here are the ones that I've previously struggled with.
- Personalization. Someone is rude to you, you take it personally. In reality, they could be having a bad day - they have no issue with you, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Emotional reasoning can come next, which is when your sad feeling begins to write a storyline as to what the reality is.
- Unchecked, this can then lead on to 'Mind reading' - making up what you think someone is thinking without actually knowing
- The final step is then Catastrophizing which is when you start to unnecessarily assume the worst about a situation.
- That can ultimately lead to Labelling which is when you start to label yourself as something you see as negative, such as 'lonely', 'single', 'worthless' and so on.
Finally, this is also a big one I'm also aware sometimes affects me.
Black and white thinking. Seeing things as a complete success or a complete failure, whilst neglecting to acknowledge that most things fall into the grey area in-between. Nothing is usually a perfect success or a total failure. Things could be going great, but you could be focusing on that glass being "half empty" and bringing yourself down over it for no reason
These are known as "cognitive distortions".
You don't need a degree in behavioral neuroscience to get to grips with these, If you can read up on these, and dissect your own negative thoughts to identify if any of them are a result of cognitive distortions, you can gain so much more control over your inner monologue and peace. At least it works for me, anyway. By the way, this is also sometimes known as distorted thinking, thought disorders, etc.
If you're looking for a professional therapy, I personally had one round of CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) when I was a teenager and it was extremely helpful (most likely due to therapist I worked with, who I felt I connected with). As a teenager with no clue about distorted thinking, I took those tools and spent years applying and developing my understanding of them to my own life.
My therapist drip-fed me pages from a book about distorted thinking and applied them to the things we spoke about each week. We only had a few sessions, but they were spaced out enough for me to really work on the tasks I was given.
I really, really recommend reading up on this Healthline page. I almost feel like this is one of those "cheat sheets". This is pretty much what I learnt in CBT. I feel like these things can effect everyone, not just those with mental health concerns - for that reason, having the ability to identify them in yourself or others can be extremely useful in all aspects of your life.
During the Winter
During the winter, there are a few things which really help me. Instead of thinking of it as winter, I think of it as the Christmas season. I get my Christmas tree as early as possible and cover it in lights. Heck, I cover my whole house in lights. And I don't even take them down afterwards actually, most still remain from last year since I love fairy lights.
Instead of hibernating from the Winter frost, romanticize the Christmas period. Get fairy lights, candles, make mulled wine (if you're old enough), Plan to go look at christmas trees with a friend in an evening and take polaroid pictures whilst you're there (this is what I'm planning this year).
Setting things to look forward to can really, really help. Close your curtains if the light isn't right, as soon as it isn't right, and use your artificial lights. Convince your body it's a beautiful day. Some research has even suggested dietary enhancements like eating more fish can help (my references are in the footer), but it's best to use your best judgement when looking at these things. Personally, I take a high dose of Vitamin-D and C each day in addition to a good multi-vitamin.
I do like hot chocolates but they're so heavy on sugar and kcals... I definitely don't recommend using those as a coping mechanism from my own experience of standing on the weighing scale a month later! I try to keep away from comfort eating. It's something I feel my body wanting to do, but I personally don't struggle to brush off those types of temptations.
As with most things, eating health, exercising and sleeping enough are known to help. Although of course, each of these things can be more difficult when SAD is here. Don't be too hard on yourself. Make a list of the action you want to take and work through it at a kind pace.
SAD can feel overwhelming. It often comes in like a train and takes you off guard. However, with this being related to the environment around you, there are measures you can take. There are factors you can control.
Maybe it's the last thing you want to do when this kicks in. It's not easy, but your life and happiness is worth the work. Trust me, you deserve to feel beautiful. I type this as it's sunny outside and I feel like I've been given an extension on getting myself prepared for my own SAD since it kicked in yesterday.
Stay warm. Control the light. Love yourself and be kind to yourself. Stay busy, but take time to relax. Avoid toxic tendencies and destructive influences. Protect your energy whilst it's more fragile than usual.
Invest in lighting - doesn't need to be expensive, even just bright bulbs. They need to be really bright. I love the warm ones (3200-4200K light temperature), despite what the research says.
Invest time into your education, so you understand what you're feeling and how you can combat it. This use to cripple me as a child and it still would now if I didn't try as hard as I did, but I promise it gets better. Each year it gets harder for me, but each year I get stronger and more resilient to it. It's never easy, but your life is worth the battle.
Stay safe, love you.
If you are experiencing any difficulties with your health you should seek professional medical help, this article is not a substitute to professional help and I am not a professional psychologist. I am sharing my personal experiences and my honest opinions of what's worked for me.
None of the external links used are affiliated and I am not paid nor do I earn any commission from any of the external websites linked in this article.
- Jacquelyn Rudis, True or False: Depression and Suicide Rates Rise During the Holiday Season, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
- Barker A.; Hawton K.; Fagg J.; Jennison C. (1994). "Seasonal and Weather Factors in Parasuicide". British Journal of Psychiatry. 165 (3): 375–380.
- Magnusson A, Axelsson J, Karlsson MM, Oskarsson H (2000). "Lack of seasonal mood change in the Icelandic population: results of a cross-sectional study". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 157 (2): 234–8.
- Bridges, F. S.; Yip, P. S. F.; Yang, K. C. T. (2005). "Seasonal changes in suicide in the United States, 1971 to 2000". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 100 (3 suppl): 920–924.
- Provencio I, Warthen DM (2012). "Melanopsin, the photopigment of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells". Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Membrane Transport and Signaling. 1 (2): 228–237
- Edgar RS, Green EW, Zhao Y, van Ooijen G, Olmedo M, Qin X, et al. (2012). "Peroxiredoxins are conserved markers of circadian rhythms". Nature. 485 (7399): 459–64.