For a long time now I have always felt really down at this time of year. When it first started happening I just thought I was having a bad day, but it turned into a week, then a month. Then after the first time of feeling down in the winter months, I noticed it happening every year at the same time. January. January is the worst. The second year it happened I went to my doctor and she said it was S.A.D. This stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder aka the winter blues .
SAD is a form of depression triggered by lack of light in the wintertime. The sun stimulates the production of serotonin in our bodies, so because of the lack of sunlight this time of year, serotonin levels drop along with our mood. Serotonin is our “happy hormone” and gives us feelings of comfort, relaxation, contentment and well being.
Symptoms can include, depression (for more than a few days, weeks or even months), insomnia, lack of energy, overeating/loss of appetite, irritability, loss of libido and a weakened immune system. Please talk to your doctor if you’re feeling any of these symptoms. There’s nothing to be ashamed about and you’re definitely not on your own.
It’s like there’s a big black cloud following you around, and even though you have nothing to be sad about, the thoughts of getting up, getting dressed or even talking to people is a struggle. The cloud shrouds your mind, your soul in darkness and reminds you it that it can rain on you at any given moment. You have no energy, you could stay in bed all day. The blankets are your shield from the outside world, it’s warm in bed and the cloud can’t rain on you in there. When you do have to go out, you smile and chat to your friends and co-workers but the smile never reaches your eyes. It’s false.
Sometimes, when you talk to people you are close with and try explain what you’re feeling they reply with “But you’ve nothing to be sad about…you are in a happy relationship, you have friends and family who love you and you love your job etc etc”. They don’t get it and that makes you feel even more alone. It just pushes your mind further and further into darkness. The light feels so far away, and you cry for no reason. You feel weak and worthless and wonder if you’re ever going to come out of it. You barely eat..food tastes like nothing. You drink heavier, because drink helps you sleep but you wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all. Alcohol gets rid of the dark cloud, but only briefly and the clouds return heavier and darker than before. It leaves you feeling like you’re in a storm, getting thrown around between your worst fears and all your worries. Alcohol isn’t the answer. I gave it up 6 months ago today and it was the best decision I ever made. It has had a huge positive impact on my S.A.D.
Another way S.A.D affects me is my sleep…I have insomnia anyway, but its particularly worse this time of year. I think too much, worry too much and my brain doesn’t ever switch off. My mind gets no break. It’s in a constant state of worry.
This in turn causes me to have more panic attacks when I’m out and about. It’s so embarrassing having a panic attack out in public, it has happened to me on buses, in queues, in the cinema. I have been suffering with panic attacks for about 10 years now and they don’t get any easier. It is the closest thing to dying you will ever experience and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. They can occur any time and for absolutely no reason. Mine usually involve rapid heart beat, hyperventilating, tears, numbness in my legs and arms, pins and needles, dizziness, feeling like you’re taking your last breath. It’s like you don’t feel real, you’re paralysed with pure panic and you just pray it’s going to be over soon. I have lost count the number of times I thought I was actually going to die, it’s like your heart is going to explode and take its last beat. Some of my attacks have lasted hours, and sometimes you wouldn’t even know I was having one if you were sitting beside me. I don’t always hyperventilate, sometimes the attacks are silent and the ones that aren’t as obvious tend to be the worst for me.
The important thing to remember is that S.A.D will pass and that you aren’t alone. It is such a common disorder, especially in Ireland, because of our terrible weather. There are things you can do to help without taking tablets.
. Light therapy is the most common and is 85% effective in most cases. You can buy S.A.D. lamps which mimic the sun rising and the light helps your brain produce serotonin. There are various ones you can get for varying prices and they sell them in Boots. The more expensive ones have a sunrise setting, a sunset setting, radio, alarm clock, and plays relaxing sounds, like the sea. I would highly recommend them. Light therapy works best when combined with alternative therapies.
Massage may be the best choice for SAD sufferers. Why? Because massage doesn’t require much effort on the part of the recipient. Once the appointment is made, all you have to do is show up. From that point on, you can relax and let the therapist do all the work.
Massage alleviates the symptoms of SAD in a variety of ways. First of all, massage releases endorphins, which creates a euphoric feeling and fights depression. Massage also lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, positively stimulates the nerve endings, removes toxins and improves energy and concentration. By receiving regular massages, the SAD sufferer will experience less intense symptoms and will regain a more positive and healthy perspective on life. When starting off with massage therapy, I recommend massage once a week for 4-6 weeks and then once a month after that. For your iniital treatment I’d suggest a full body massage to allow the therapist find the areas that have the most tension, then after that you could just go for a back massage or Indian head massage.
Exercise is another important factor in combating S.A.D. It’s well known that exercise releases happy hormones and you will always feel better after a brisk walk. I know it’s hard to find the motivation but I promise you, you will feel so much better if you just make yourself go. Foods that help increase serotonin are turkey, chicken, salmon, avocado, baked potato, walnuts, chick peas, lentils, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. It’s important to eat them regularly throughout the day for best results. Another thing that I’ve found helpful is reading a book, for example, The Secret. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and it always help me feel that bit more positive.
I wanted to write this post because sharing my experience with S.A.D might resonate with some of you and maybe it will help you feel like you’re not all alone. There are people out there going through what you’re going through and most importantly there are things you can do to help yourself. I’m obviously not a doctor, I’m just sharing my experiences. Suicide rates are at an all time high in Ireland and it’s scary. A couple of years ago a friend of mine committed suicide and it really affected me. Thinking about how down he was, how alone he was in those final moments…it’s so sad. Don’t ever feel like you have no way out, don’t carry the weight of your worries on your shoulders alone…talk to someone. Talk to your doctor, and if you don’t like doctors talk to a family member or friend. If you feel like you have nobody to talk to, talk to me. You can send me a message or email me.
You know how in winter it gets really cold and you think it will never be hot again, and then in summer it can get so hot you think you will never be cold again? Well that’s how it is with your feelings. Like when you are sad, you think you will never be happy again and when you are happy you think you will never be sad. But you will be hot again and you will be cold and you will be sad again but most importantly YOU WILL BE HAPPY AGAIN. And if you need help in becoming happy again, that’s ok too. Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can.
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