The clocks have gone back, the days have got much shorter and the evenings are suddenly much darker. How do you cope with winter setting in?
At this time of year, most of us find ourselves wanting to eat more and sleep longer. An evening snuggled up with a mince pie and hot chocolate might be far more preferable to going out when it’s cold and dark outside.
But for some people, this feeling of lethargy is accompanied by feelings of sadness and a persistent lack of energy. In 2016, a former colleague discussed her experiences here on Which? Conversation.
For most, these changes in mood and energy levels may be quite mild, often known as the ‘winter blues’. But for others, the change in seasons can cause more severe symptoms of depression, which can have a significant impact on their ability to function normally.
This minority of people suffer from ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD), a recognised mental health disorder which can be debilitating.
I have suffered from SAD for as long as I can remember. Every year, usually around the end of October when the clocks go back, my mood suddenly plummets and even the simplest things become impossible to do.
I feel exhausted and I crave sleep. I feel unbearably miserable and on the verge of tears almost all of the time. I become anxious and unable to make the simplest decisions. I can’t concentrate on anything.
Normal daily tasks become overwhelming. Just getting out of bed and showing up for work becomes a monumental challenge.
It is a difficult condition to manage, there is no easy cure. But the things I have found most helpful over the years are my SAD lamps and daylight bulb.
Shine a light
Although there is no conclusive evidence to say whether or not SAD lamps work, light therapy is a popular treatment for SAD.
It’s thought SAD may be linked to lower levels of sunlight in the winter, which may then trigger a chemical imbalance in the brain.
SAD lamps shine a very bright, cool light which is usually at least 10 times the intensity of ordinary household lights. So they can be used to simulate exposure to sunlight.
By far, the SAD light I’ve found most effective has been the daylight bulb I have in my home, which replaces my hallway ceiling light in the winter.
Perhaps this is because I can switch it on first thing in the morning and it lights up the whole room, so I can trick myself into thinking the sun has come up when it’s still dark outside.
Before I got the daylight lamp, it could sometimes take me hours to get out of bed in the morning. Now, I might still be grumpy but at least I can make it out from under the covers.
The only thing I have to be cautious about with the daylight bulb is not to have it on too much in the evening. As with all SAD lamps, too much exposure to the bright light in the evening can interfere with your body clock and make it harder for you to get to sleep.
I also have a small, portable SAD lamp. It’s probably not the most effective model – there are lots of different types out there and some are bigger and brighter than others.
But I like it because it’s small enough to bring to work and have it on my desk. The light from the SAD lamp just needs to reach your eyes, you don’t need to look directly into it. So I can just have it switched on for a couple of hours while I work.
The lamp has prompted a few discussions and questions from curious colleagues, but it’s also led to conversations with others who find the winter difficult but hadn’t considered using a SAD lamp before.
Even people who don’t have such severe symptoms can find the dreary days and dark nights tough, and might benefit from a SAD lamp.
Do you find the winter months difficult? If so, have you considered using a SAD lamp? What have you found most effective in lifting your mood?