If you follow these articles regularly, you’ll know that recently I’ve covered some fairly dark subject matter – from why Facebook and the metaverse pose a threat to your mental health and how the relentless onslaught of bad news is driving anxiety and depression to record levels.
This piece also deals with some dark thoughts, but this time the darkness is literal, rather than metaphorical.
As I write this, we’re now just three weeks from the shortest day of the year. This is, of course, a ludicrous description since it has just as many hours as the other 365 days of this year – it’s just that marginally more of the 24 that make up December 21st are spent in the dark.
This is, in many ways, a good thing. For a start, it means that by the time we wake up on December 22nd the tide of darkness will have turned and we’ll be inching our way back to the long, light mornings and evenings of spring and summer. And, frankly, hurrah to that!
The downside is that we really will be inching forward. On December 22nd, we’ll enjoy 2 seconds of additional daylight. It’ll be 8 seconds the following day, and we’ll be into January before we’ve clawed back a full minute.
Darkness plays havoc with mental health.
When we’re under pressure or under stress our subconscious – that inner protector that constantly scans for danger – shakes us into reluctant and resentful, wakefulness at 3am so it can have the privilege of amplifying all our fears in the blackest part of the night.
The disappearance of the sun to the southern hemisphere for the majority of the day during the autumn and winter also has a negative impact on our emotional wellbeing.
The stealthily creeping darkness starves us of the Vitamin D that’s so important in maintaining our natural mental and physical energy, and this lethargy also magnifies our perception of the things that aren’t right in our world.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD for short – is one of the most common causes of depression, anxiety and stress during the winter months.
The basic chemical theory for why so many people suffer with SAD is that the prolonged lack of sunlight effectively stops the hypothalamus from working properly.
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that produces both melatonin (which makes you sleepy) and serotonin (which affects your mood). When production of these two natural chemicals is out of whack, the imbalance impairs sleep, flattens happiness and puts your internal clock into a spin.
Current research suggests that everyone suffers SAD to one extent or another. For most of us, the impact is mild – we feel a bit down as we mourn the end of summer and then plough on.
But for those who suffer with SAD’s symptoms for a prolonged period, the effect can be horribly debilitating. Depression becomes a constant companion, anxiety and stress ramps up, and we withdraw deeper into our own world.
For lots of people, Seasonal Affective Disorder is linked to past trauma that occurred at this time of year. The changing of the seasons and lengthening darkness becomes a trigger for memories that are suppressed and repressed at other times.
This trauma doesn’t have to have been catastrophic, and often it isn’t, but the effect of unaddressed trauma is always acute. Hypnotherapy is amazingly effective in helping people to acknowledge and then process their trauma, and this often results in exponential benefit in many different areas of their life.
At Zoe Clews & Associates, we work with our clients to help them to gently face the emotional damage caused by past events and then support them to find peace and lay those ghosts to rest once and for all.
But for those who simply struggle with the emotional impact of SAD, here are some tips to help mitigate the effects and reclaim happiness.
There are now some amazing products on the market that replicate natural sunlight. None of them are exactly cheap, but there are affordable options that will help your body to regain chemical and emotional balance by normalising your circadian rhythm (the natural rhythm that dictates sleeping and waking).
Have a routine
Lack of sleep is both a symptom of SAD, but also a cause – so getting into the right sleeping and waking rhythm is essential in combating SAD. You can help your body to rediscover its natural rhythm by identifying – and then sticking to – a strict bedtime and wake-up routine.
Exercise is brilliant at producing healthy chemicals that generate positive feelings and improve self-esteem. It also contributes to achieving a healthy weight and restoring body confidence. More than that, it also helps to prepare you for sleep later in the day. You don’t need to hit the gym in a big way – just work out to a YouTube video or go for a brisk walk.
Avoid excessive alcohol
Alcohol inhibits and interrupts sleep, and it’s also a depressant, so stay away from it as much as possible. Make a pact with yourself to observe strict dry days during the week to help change your drinking habits.
Natural sunlight is a source of Vitamin D, which helps to energise us and, in moderation and with UV protection, also improves physical health (don’t overdo it – excessive amounts of even weak sunlight without proper protection can be dangerous). Vitamin D deficiency is a common symptom in people who suffer with SAD.
If you’re struggling with seasonal affective disorder, or need help to come to terms with trauma, get in touch for a confidential and no-obligation chat to see how hypnotherapy can help.