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All the leaves are brown & red.. yet I’m feeling blue - An experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Summer 2019 has been a bit of a cracker in Bristol. Ok it didn’t pack quite as much of a punch as the scorcher that was 2018 but for me personally and as a counsellor it was pretty special! I’ve had some great long evenings wandering down the Gloucester Road with friends, having food and drinks alfresco. I’ve taken up running again and loved exploring the shady paths along the river in East Bristol. And I’ve grown so much as a counsellor, meeting some wonderful new clients in spaces Sycamore House, East Bristol and The Arches Therapy Rooms in Central Bristol near Gloucester Road. But now the clocks have gone back the summer has definitely come to an end and instead of waking up to bird song it’s the gurgle of the central heating that disturbs me.

Speaking to my clients I know that some of you love that ‘back to school’ feeling that the change in seasons brings. For some it’s a time to set new intentions, to feel energised and look to make changes in their life. It’s certainly a busy time for me as a counsellor!

However for many others in the Uk, with the clocks changing and the decreased sunlight as we move from summer to autumn can trigger a type of low mood and depression know as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. The symptoms can include low energy and mood, irritability, overeating, feeling stressed and anxious, an increased need to sleep, and a loss of interest in normal, everyday activities and social events. There can be an increased feeling as though you need to put “on a mask” to act “normal” which can be exhausting and draining. SAD is something I’ve experienced personally for many years and took many years to diagnose, so I wanted to share what I’ve done to manage and help SAD symptoms during the winter months.

I’d like to add I am not a Doctor so if you are struggling to cope with symptoms of SAD I would recommend having chat with your GP and then seeking a therapist or counsellor to discuss what treatment might be right for you.

My helpful Top 5 tips :

1. Make some Simple Lifestyle Changes

Making small changes like getting as much natural sunlight as possible going for a walk at lunchtime even on a grey day, exercising regularly and eating healthy balanced meals, maintaining a regular bedtime and morning routine. Bristol is a great place in the summer but even in the wintertime there’s lots to explore! I always try to walk to my counselling sessions with clients so I can see some daylight and get some exercise in. I’m also lucky enough to have a family allotment in East Bristol so I’m eating a rainbow of fresh vegetables and comforting food to try and stop me reaching for the biscuits!

2. Consider Light Box Therapy

I’ve used a SAD alarm clock for over 15 years now, you set the alarm time and the light slowly comes on in the morning illuminating my room, making those dark winter mornings more bearable. I also have SAD Light Box lamp (make sure it’s an official one) which I use on very grey and dark mornings for 15-30mins whilst getting ready. This works like the alarm clock by simulating sunlight so helping to trigger the release of serotonin (the body’s natural feel good chemical) making me feel more alert and awake.

3. Check your Vitamin D levels?

I have discovered over the years that Vitamin D deficiency is one of the contributing factors to my low mood and fatigue in the winter months because of the lack sun exposure. As a woman of colour, I’m more prone to vitamin D deficiency because darker skin can’t absorb it so easily from the sun. I had a blood test from my GP who confirmed this and prescribed supplements I also try to increase my exposure to sunlight whenever it shines. I wouldn’t recommend taking supplements like this without getting a test first.

4. Medication

Sometimes you may need a little extra help from some medication, there is No Shame, you haven’t failed, or have to suffer behind that mask. Yes, there still is some stigma about the use of anti-depressants but I remember reading a fantastic blog posted by Vicky Leigh on the Mind website who had spoke with her GP and they gave this wonderful analogy “if you had winter asthma then we would give you an inhaler, you have SAD so we give you tablets to help for a few months” Go and have a chat with your GP and arrange an appointment with a therapist or counsellor, the two together can be very helpful.

5. Acceptance

Finally for me, acceptance that SAD is a genuine condition, that it’s Ok not to be Ok. You are not alone, many people struggle to some degree with winter blues as the sunlight decreases. It’s good to talk about how you are feeling with friends and family, if your symptoms increase or you feel overwhelmed by them talk to your doctor and seek support from a therapist or counsellor. Increasing my awareness and knowledge about SAD has helped me to identify my early warning signs and more importantly put into practice what I have learnt, easier said than done sometimes!

All this has helped me to accept and understand that the autumn and winter season isn’t something to feel blue about but there is a rainbow of colour to embrace and enjoy!

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