It’s coming to that time of year where the nights draw in and the days are ever shorter. For some this can bring more than sadness that the summer is over, it can bring along a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the winter blues.
My own experience of SAD does not follow your typical autumn to spring routine; it has hit me in February for the last few years. The first signs of my depression starting is when the motivation and concentration start to disappear; where I find myself staring at the laptop not knowing what I’m meant to be doing for hours on end. While I know that there is a ‘to do list’ up to my eye balls, I don’t seem to be able to find the right form of energy to read what I have written down let alone complete any task I have.
Then there is the anger and frustration that appears from nowhere; even the littlest of things annoy me. The poor teaspoon that jumps out of my hand and on to the floor gets a right telling off. Though what I don’t understand is how I can become too tired and lethargic to argue with this poor teaspoon, even when it has committed the ultimate crime of leaping to the floor without permission.
Sadly, I tend to hold these feelings in when I’m ill, I don’t like to burden people with my problems. Last year though, during my first year at university, I realised that I couldn’t hold them in and deal with it on my own; I had to talk to someone or it would have felt I could not continue with my course anymore, that the university dream was over. The thought of failing my first year at university when I worked so hard to get there was too strong to ignore.
Nightline were my saviours last February as they were there at the end of the phone just listening to me and allowing me to ‘sound off’ with them. While they didn’t tell me what to do to resolve my issues, they allowed me to come to my own conclusions of what steps I needed to take. I could now see that I needed help and the university had the resources to do this. While anxiety provoking this was, I spoke with my Disability Officer and support was set in place almost immediately. I don’t think I would have taken this step if it wasn’t for Nightline reassuring me that it is ok to ask for help.
SAD can affect anyone at any time in their lives, with or without an underlying mental health condition, though it can be easily maintained without the use of medication. The illness typically starts from autumn continuing in to spring, where the levels of sunlight are at their lowest.
We can talk about the chemicals in the brain which cause SAD; the increase in melatonin causing sleepiness and the fall in serotonin which brings about the depression. There are many signs you can look out for, you might recognise some of them in yourself.
Lethargy or tiredness
Sleeping in lectures is a typically student thing to do, but are you feeling more tired than normal? Does walking up the stairs feel more like walking up a mountain?
Are you struggling to get up in the mornings, or are you going straight back to bed after lectures have finished? Do you find yourself staring at the flashing light on the fire alarm on the ceiling for hours before you finally drop off to sleep?
Decrease or increase in appetite
Are you skipping meals or over indulging in naughty foods like chocolate and crisps?
Anxiety or anger
Do you become overly worried when hunting in your purse to find money for your caffeine fix? Do you find that you could easily throw your note pad at your lecturer – for no reason whatsoever?
Does your cold last longer than usual, maybe longer than a fortnight? Are your colds persistent and keep coming back for repeated visits?
Do you feel as though there is no reason to get up in the mornings, or find there is no point in taking care of your appearance?
While reading these symptoms can appear scary, it is important to remember that SAD is manageable; with or without medical interventions. Your university will have a Disability Officer and a disability support team if you need academic support and you can always talk your concerns over with your GP. Though here are some things that you can do to help keep SAD at bay and not allow it to affect your studies:
This is easier than you think. Simply find a quiet spot, sit with your eyes closed and concentrate on your breath and your breath alone. Five or ten minutes usually does the trick.
It’s important to keep active; walks, even on dark and horrible days, can help boost your physical activity and get you away from your text books.
Why not try your walking during the day? This allows you to absorb the good UV rays from the sun which helps boost vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin.
Yes, you’ve heard it all before, but make sure your intake of fruit and veg are topped up over the winter months as they contain proteins, vitamins and minerals which help boost your immune system. Sadly, that’s bad news for the takeaways but also good news for your wallet.
My personal favourite. Sometimes things can seem to be getting on top of you, so having your favourite perfume with you and regularly smelling it with deep breathes can ground you, allowing you to bring back focus to the task at hand.
And the most important tip I can give you: Talk.
Talking may seem an obvious choice when going through any form of depression or mental illness, though it can also be scary to do. Research has shown that by talking about your problems can help reduce anxiety and allow you to find a solution to the problems at hand. Even if you talk with a friend about the basics of what’s affecting you it can be relieving to know that you don’t have it all bottled up in your head any more.
Of course another option would be to talk to Nightline, like I was able to do, where you don’t have to disclose any personal information about who you are, what you’re studying or anything that you may feel uncomfortable in sharing. They are there to listen and simply be there for you; kind of like holding your hand when times get tough. Give them a ring and see how supportive they can be when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Though please remember, that if things are getting really tough for you that talking to your GP is important. They can guide you to other forms of treatment that may be beneficial through your SAD, or any mental health condition.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists have a detailed leaflet about Seasonal Affective Disorder if you want to have a look further, which can be found here.
If you are not a student, please talk to someone. People like Samaritans, Sane or Rethink. There maybe a local helpine to you, please search online to find this local numbers.
- Beat the Winter Blues: Tips to Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder (writeitgreen.wordpress.com)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD (stigmahurtseveryone.wordpress.com)