Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects around 3% of the UK population. This year, on top of the usual shortened days, and cold, dark nights, we’re also dealing with a global pandemic. Lockdown, the decreased opportunity for time outside and the extended periods without physically seeing or being able to touch others is compounding the effects.
Psychologist Andrew Bridgewater spoke to us about his experience of patients with SAD and said that 20% of the patients he sees suffer with SAD each year. He said that; ‘Anyone can experience SAD, especially if they find themselves under sustained stress or experience a very challenging life event at that time of year.’
The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression. Here’s how to spot the signs.
The Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Feeling low
- Losing interest in the things you usually enjoy
- Finding it difficult to concentrate
- Low energy levels
- Struggling to make decisions
- Sleeping more
- Finding it difficult to wake up and get out of bed in the morning
- Eating more (especially carbohydrates)
- Feeling anxious and less sociable
But how do you tell the difference between a dose of the winter blues and a case of SAD?
Of course, in the current situation, the pandemic is causing and indeed heightening symptoms like these.
Back in 2018 Insulation Express created a 28 days of mindfulness calendar to help those suffering from SAD. Mindfulness has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety and SAD.
We’ve updated it to help anyone suffering from the winter blues right now, with budget friendly ideas that can be used in or out of lockdown.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is when you take notice of how you feel, internally and externally within any given moment. Exercises usually start off small, such as listing the five senses.
- What can you see?
- What can you hear?
- What can you feel?
- What can you smell?
- What can you taste?
This helps us to reconnect with our body and the sensations you experience.
It also helps us, in the long term, to become more present in the moment and enjoy the world around us, even when things are not perfect.
What Are The Benefits Of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness improves both physical and mental well-being. It has been shown to help:
Treat heart disease
Lower blood pressure
Reduce chronic pain
Alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties
There have also been studies that show a reduction in rumination, increased empathy for others and ourselves and even benefits for children who have been bullied, in helping to manage the depressive symptoms that can come from a result of that experience.
Seven Days of Mindfulness
Each day of this plan, we introduce a new exercise that will help you incorporate mindfulness into your life. If you are able, with each new day, also try to perform the previous days’ activities too.
By the end of the week, you’ll have 7 new ways to be mindful throughout any day.
And if you’re completely new to mindfulness and find this quite a challenge, you can spread it out over more time and add each new exercise in a little more slowly. That way, you can build up at your own pace.
These exercises can be done inside or out and are lockdown and pandemic friendly, meaning you don’t need to have lots of time, outdoor space or money to experience the benefits.
Day 1 - Morning Stillness
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Do you reach for your phone and start scrolling through social media and the news? Or do you get out of bed and head for the coffee pot?
Try this instead.
Lie in stillness for 1 minute. Notice how your breath feels as it goes in and out of your body. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Just feel what it’s like to be alive.
Day 2 - Morning Senses
Whether you start your day with breakfast, a shower or a walk, take a minute to become aware of your surroundings and then pay attention to those things for a few moments.
What can I hear? Is it birds tweeting? Or the shower running?
What can I smell? Is your nose prickling with the aroma of coffee brewing or can you smell wet leaves or frosty air?
What can I taste? Is your toothpaste super fresh? Or is your breakfast warming and flavourful?
What can I see? Is there a glorious sunrise? Or do you see photographs of loved ones around your room?
What can I feel? Is the water pounding on your skin as you shower? Is the morning air cold against your face?
Day 3 - H20 Intake
It’s recommended that adults drink around 2 litres of water a day. Or 6-8 glasses. It helps to prevent us from becoming dehydrated and can help improve mood, memory, reduce headaches, prevent constipation, bladder infections and more.
So, keep a glass or water bottle around you all day today. Every time you take a drink, draw your attention to your body. Notice how the water feels in your mouth and as it trickles down your throat. How does it change how your breath feels?
Day 4 - Relax Your Body, Bit By Bit
As you’re lying in bed tonight, or if you feel tension growing through the day, take 5 minutes to relax your body, bit by bit.
Position yourself either lying down or sitting comfortably.
Start at the top of your body and work your way down. First scrunch up your face for a few seconds. And then relax it. Feel the muscles at the side of your eyes and across your forehead unfurl. Unclench your jaw. Notice the difference in sensations.
Move down to your shoulders, and arms, your torso, legs and feet. Practice clenching and unclenching muscles in each area at a time. Consider the change in both physical and mental feelings as you go through each one. You might find that one area in particular is more noticeable. perhaps you hold most of your tension in your shoulders or your jaw. Just take a mental note, become aware and move on.
Day 5 - Eat Mindfully
How often do you fully appreciate a meal? Eating normally happens alongside another activity, be it a conversation, at your desk while working or while watching TV.
For 1 meal today, eat mindfully. Don’t do any other activity at the same time. Chew slowly and thoroughly. Focus on how the food makes you feel and what it tastes like. Notice when you start to feel full and try to appreciate the different flavours and textures the food has.
Day 6 - Check In On A Chore
You might find housework extremely mundane, but the very nature of it means that it is an everyday task. Whether it’s dusting, washing the dishes or putting a load of laundry in, here’s how you can get the most out of it.
Don’t think of finishing or how much you hate a particular chore. Just start to do it and bring your awareness to all your senses as you do.
If you’re washing dishes, feel the water over your hands. Enjoy making something clean. Watch the sponge work its way around a pan or over a plate. Smell the washing up liquid. Slow down and take in the sensory experience. Feel curious about what you’re experiencing. This will help free your mind from stressful thoughts about the future and concentrate on the now.
Day 7 - View Your Thoughts From Afar
This is often cited as one of the hardest mindfulness exercises as many people struggle with “switching their brain off”. So don’t worry if you find this difficult initially. The challenge is not to “switch off” your thoughts, but to learn how to observe them without getting engaged.
Try imagining yourself sitting on a riverbank, watching the world go by. Don’t try to empty your mind. Just observe your thoughts. As each one pops into your head, say to yourself, “there goes a thought about x” and imagine it floating on by down the river. Don’t follow it. Just watch it pass by.
The third Monday of January is known as “Blue Monday”, so called because it is claimed to be the most depressing of the year. While we can safely say that feeling low doesn’t just happen on one day of the year, using small steps towards alleviating symptoms with our 7 days of mindfulness plan, could help you to make your way through this difficult time.
Remember that whenever experiencing a low mood or symptoms of depression it is best to seek medical advice. This is not meant as a diagnostic tool, but to help those with the winter blues help themselves. See your GP if you have any symptoms of depression or seasonal affective disorder.