It’s that time of year when the summer is over, the weather starts to close in, and we face the prospect of the clocks going back, leaving us with short days, and the dreaded “going to work in the dark, going home in the dark”.
It’s enough to make most of us feel a little down, but for many people (at least half a million in the UK alone), Seasonal Affective Disorder/Depression (or sometimes winter depression) or SAD as it is commonly known, this time of year signals that start of a tough period of digging in to survive the debilitating low mood that can be caused by biochemical changes in the body/brain.
There is plenty of information about SAD, and if you believe you have this condition, or even if you just feel low mood in the winter months but manage to get by, you will probably have read about the benefits of exercise, light therapy, supplements and medication. These, or a combination of them, can be very helpful.
My own view is that this condition is not a “disorder” but is more a sign of our bodies being in touch with nature while our lifestyles are not. Many species wind down during the winter, plants lose their leaves, insects largely disappear into states of suspended animation, animals grow winter coats, or burrow down and hibernate. Our bodies are part of nature and are not immune to this tendency, and yet we are expected to be as active and productive as during the brighter spring and summer months, while cooped up in offices and factories, or at home with the children, bathed in weak artificial light. Of course we don’t have the luxury of hibernating, or sealing ourselves up in a cave for the winter – like many evolutionary adaptions (such as our appendix!) what was once useful to our ancestors can become a big problem in today’s modern world. Whatever the view on SAD, there is no doubt that there is a physical, biological component, which is why light therapy and chemical help can work. However, there is also the emotional component of how we respond to the effects.
As well as the above mentioned therapies for SAD, counselling can also be used to identify issues which might be contributing to the feelings of depression. Sometimes it is easier to brush off underlying problems when the weather is bright and and the light nights are with us, and the winter months can magnify low mood and affect how we perceive problems. Counselling may be able to help you find a way forward, whether this is by finding ways to manage the feelings brought on by winter, or gaining new perspectives on what the feelings mean and how to deal with and reduce their intensity.