Theres a lot to be grateful for at this time of year. Abundant freshly harvested food, a cacophony of colours as autumn takes its hold, cosy nights in front of a roaring fire as the nights close in. For some people the joy is overshadowed by low mood that may have no tangible origin, but simply sits there, like a cloud over their head until the seasons start to tip once again and the longer days draw in. For those who feel like that, they could well be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern with sufferers experiencing a change in mood depending on the time of year. The usual onset is in Autumn and Winter when the daylight hours are shorter. Less commonly this is reversed.
The problem is poorly understood but several theories exist. From the physiological perspective hormonal anomalies in sufferers may provide some explanation. Melatonin is a hormone that the body secretes to induce sleep. Scientific studies, though not yet conclusive, have examined levels of melatonin in SAD sufferers and have found it to be higher during winter months. Likewise Seratonin, the “feel good hormone” is likely to be found in lower levels.
It is not known why some people are affected in this way but one theory is that the reduction of daylight during winter months is responsible for the altered hormonal levels. This is supported by data. If you live nearer the equator, where daylight hours remain more constant through the year, you are far less likely to suffer from SAD. This theory carries weight. In our increasingly evolving world, far less of us work outdoors these days, instead sitting in front of computers staring at false light all day before going home in the dark. But perhaps the bigger problem is not the amount of light we work in, but the fact that we don’t adapt. Compare us with certain other mammals who would retreat to hibernation during the winter months. As the colder months draw in, their bodies tell them its time to slow down and recuperate so they do exactly this. Humans however continue at the same speed and pace making no changes at all. If anything on the approach to Christmas we speed up, desperately trying to cram everything in before the end of the year. In this theory, the adjustment in hormones is in fact entirely normal. The development of symptoms happens because we don’t respond, the emotional equivalent of running on an already sprained ankle.
The solution in this instance is of course simple. Hibernate. If only. Unfortunately, very few of us are in a position to work less hours during the shorter days so practically speaking, SAD becomes a condition to treat rather than a change we must manage. So what can we do.
Well, firstly, I still recommend getting more rest and slowing down where possible. Holistically, the key is to treat the source of the problem. Acupuncture is more than an answer to aches and pains and a number of people seek treatment for a range of health issues including emotional support. It is also worth considering light therapy for which more scientific evidence is emerging. This is a simple and relatively cost effective therapy you can control yourself and would work well in support of other treatments. Its worth researching the subject properly however as the science is quite specific. Medical evidence has suggested that lights need to emit 10000 lux to be effective. The light units that conform to this are registered correctly as medical devices.
If you would like to talk to me about how acupuncture could help with your health and well being please email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01353 360 633. I may be in clinic but if you leave a message I’ll get straight back to you.
If you are considering buying a light therapy box please read do your research. The SAD.org website provides good clear guidance with appropriate links. Alternatively, get in touch with me. www.SAD.org.uk
For more information on SAD including a downloadable leaflet, please follow this link to the MIND website. www.mind.org.uk
Thank you for reading