10 Nov Seasonal Affective Disorder
The clocks went back nearly three weeks ago, and I haven’t been right since. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grand. I’m just not great. I’ve been getting on with life, grand, but every day, or every other day, I’ve had that feeling of “Get it together, girl!”, where I’ve made the wrong decision, or reacted poorly, or craved more food even though I’d already eaten two dinners. Life has been grand, but the signs have been there. I’m one of millions of people who suffer from the Winter Blues, and have done so for as long as I can remember. These days, I get a little grumpier, a little more sluggish, and a little less able to cope. Thankfully that’s all that happens these days. I just got the blues, baby. But it used to be a lot worse, and this time of year was almost impossible to bear. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and statistically, the majority of you do, you will have been struggling to adapt; to the darker evenings; the colder mornings; the usual requirements of your daily routine amid the changing external environment. Having researched the condition for years, one thing that I try to impress on people is this: we can never change our external environment. The hours of darkness that come as result of Winter are set, and it is never, ever going to be different to how it is. As Ned Stark would have it, Winter is Coming. There is no stopping it. All we can do is prepare for it. And therein lies the solution. Our external environment is beyond our control. But our internal environment is largely something we can influence. We can influence our biochemistry and go someway with self-responsibility to change the way our bodies react to external stimuli.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin, because when we become deficient, fairly awful things happen. Osteoporosis and cancer are two well-studied disease states attributed to overt Vitamin D deficiency. Depression is another. Vitamin D levels plummet in individuals living in Northern latitudes during the winter months and it’s a challenge to keep deficiency at bay. The primary source of Vitamin D is via sunlight. Our bodies are equipped to convert 7-dehydroxycholesterol into pre-vitamin D3 using UV rays, and then into the active from of Vitamin D for utilisation in almost every cell of the body. The UV rays must have a certain wavelength in order to instigate this conversion process in the skin, and the further you move away from the equator, the more insufficient the solar wavelengths are. Anything above 42N, I’m looking at you: London is 51N, Dublin and Galway are 53N, where I’m from in Donegal shares latitude with Glasgow and Sitka, Alaska, at 55N (wile far up North, hi!) Solar wavelengths between October to March are not sufficient for the endogenous production of Vitamin D. That is why the process is blunted. Dietary sources of Vitamin D are minimal. Butter, eggs, fish, and meat have Vitamin D, but in inadequate amounts to maintain levels. Supplementation becomes essential. It’s the only prescriptive approach I take with myself, my family, and my clients. Everyone should supplement with Vitamin D in the Winter. It is an essential vitamin to so many processes in the body, particularly if you are prone to depression. My recommendation is to supplement with 1000IU of Vitamin D3 every day from now until the clocks go forward again.
Move Your Body
Hibernation is attractive, but it’s a pit that is hard to emerge from. If you can, find novel and sustained ways of exercising this Winter. There are loads of 6 week programmes available in gyms and parish halls around the country at the minute, as that is all that is left until Christmas. Zumba, Body Pump and TRX are some of the more popular classes available. There are countless home-based DVDs and console games that you can use in your living room, without having to leave the house or face anyone. And sometimes a good old fashioned bolt out the door, sticking two middle fingers in the face of all that rain and darkness and blasting 90’s dance music through your iPod is the most liberating feeling in the world. Even gentle, restorative movements like Yoga and Tai Chi are efficient at increasing your heart rate, your bodily awareness, and most importantly, your endorphins. Exercise has been consistently and irrefutably linked with the stimulation of happy hormones – endorphins – and has a modulatory effect on dopamine and seretonin levels, and thus mood. It should be an essential part of your day if you are prone to the low moods and stress associated with seasonal affective disorder. Starting the process is the hardest, and if you can just force whatever bit of energy is there, to just get yourself moving, it will pay off five-fold.
Omega 3 has been studied for its effect on depression via its impact on the structural integrity of cells. All cells have an outer membrane that is made up of fat. Having good quality fats in your diet has a positive impact on the fluidity of these membranes allowing nutrients to enter more easily, and neurotransmitters to bounce from cell to cell more effectively. Omega 3 is also anti-inflammatory, and tonnes of research has been done on the link between inflammatory conditions and depression. EPA and DHA are the two main Omega 3 fatty acids and are available in little oily fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring. You only need about 3 servings a week to reach your quota. Vegetarian and vegan sources of Omega 3 come in the 3rd and less well-known fatty acid ALA, which can be converted to EPA and DHA. Flaxseed and walnuts are good sources. Supplementation may be necessary to get you through the Winter, however, without having to worry about your flaxseed conversion rates, and Nordic Naturals do a nice algae-based EPA/DHA supplement called Algae Omega.
Cut Out the Shit
Tough love time: Stop reaching for the booze and the caffeine and the sugar. When you eat like shit, you feel like shit. If you struggle to get out of bed because it’s dark and cold, adding a hangover and the fear on top of that is just plain cruel, and you do not deserve to be punished by yourself like that. Treat yourself right this Winter. Love yourself properly, because life is hard enough, and you have to be your best and strongest ally.
Be really lovely to yourself. You deserve it.
*** I don’t own this image but I really love it. If anyone knows who copyright belongs to please let me know so I can credit.