You can feel it, can’t you?  Summer’s peak has come and gone.  The sun is coming up a little later, so it’s darker if you’re an early riser… there is a chill in the evening air…the plants in the garden are starting to brown off… Autumn colour is just around the corner.  And you know what comes after that. Winter.

Of course, part of the joy of living in the Blue Mountains is the play of the seasons, the incredible variety of weather and nature’s responses to it. But Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing, and while some are conscious of its effects, many others are less aware, even though they have a sense of it or feel its subtle weight on the body’s circadian cycle.

As our little rock hurtles on its orbit around the sun, we must roll with the unstoppable seasonal shift.  Days are shorter; nights are longer and colder.  Many animals turn to deep sleep, and plants shed all excess to survive on spartan rations of energy. Our bodies feel more lethargic, in need of rest, as we crave fireplaces and warm soup and fresh bread out of the oven. And some people feel – well – sad.

In fact, SAD has several very interesting symptoms which manifest typically in Autumn and Winter.  These include feeling depressed most of the day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy, having problems with sleeping, experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, feeling sluggish or agitated, having difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty, and even having frequent thoughts of death or suicide (Mayo Clinic, 2018).

Many people attribute these “winter blues” (Melrose, 2015) symptoms to other events and causes and don’t realise that it may just be that time of the year again when our bodies are craving warmth and light.  There are plenty of theories about SAD – disruption in the body’s circadian rhythms, vitamin D deficiencies, serotonin and melatonin depletion (Rosenthal, 1998). It is a bodily depression, a felt experience, a longing for things to be different.  It can cast a shadow over other experiences, making it difficult to find the joy in them.

Light therapy (exposure to artificial bright light in the early morning to stimulate brain chemicals) is one form of treatment, anti-depression medication works in some instances, and psychotherapy is of great benefit to identify and change negative behaviours and thoughts which may be exacerbating the condition.  Daily physical activity in the light is also highly recommended.

If you know that the seasons play a part in your psyche, be prepared. Look at your schedule and think about how you can maximise exposure to the light and be aware of your triggers.  As in all things, listen to yourself, listen to your body. Get out of your head and feel it.  Know that after Winter comes the Spring – full of light, warmth, and potential.

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with the spring ~ George Santayana

REFERENCES:

As noted online (2018) Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-2036465

Melrose, S. (2015) “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches,” Depression Research and Treatment – Hindawi Publishing Corporation, Volume 2015, Article ID 178564, London, UK.

N, Rosenthal. (1998) “Winter Blues Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It” Guilford Press, London, UK.

Disclaimer: This article contains the views of the author and is not a replacement for therapeutic support. Please reach out to a registered therapist if you are experiencing distress and require assistance.