My most recent Saddleworth Monthly article for you…!
As I write this, actually outside it is one of those lovely cold crisp sunny Autumn days, but for some this time of year causes SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. As the days get darker and shorter, there is less light. No one quite knows why the amount of light we get really affects our moods, but we all know it does! How much better do you feel on a sunny bright day than a grey dull overcast one?
In simple terms, experts think that light affects how much melatonin and serotonin we make. These are brain chemicals if you like that help control how good we feel. I always think of serotonin as the ‘feel good chemical’ and it is this chemical that antidepressants like Prozac or Citalopram are designed to boost. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, which is a gland the size of a pea at the base of the brain. As the sun goes down at night, this little gland starts producing tiny amounts of melatonin – it’s like a cue to start getting sleepy. As light dawns, the gland gradually stops producing it, and hence we start to wake up. What is thought to happen in some people is that their pineal gland continues to produce melatonin as they aren’t getting enough light for them to switch it off. Hence, you feel lethargic, fuzzy and not really firing on all cylinders.
This pineal gland also produces serotonin, the feel good brain chemical. It is known that we produce less serotonin in Winter than we do in Summer, and that the amount we make is directly related to the amount of light we have available. So, just imagine, if you are person who naturally produces a bit less serotonin anyway (this is very common in women) and along comes a long dark Autumn and Winter – BANG! You’re not exactly going to feel in tip top condition, are you?
The most common symptoms of SAD include lethargy, sleep problems, comfort or over eating (especially of chocolate as this helps us produce serotonin – now you know!), loss of libido and social confidence, and low mood. It has even been linked to PMS, is pretty common in children and teenagers and often people turn to feel-good substances like alcohol, chocolate, caffeine etc.
So, if you think this might be a problem, what do you do? Simple. Try to get more light and boost your serotonin levels. You could get yourself a light box (10,000 lux), a light cap you can wear around the house, or invest in full spectrum lighting (we had this at the Purehealth Clinic in Uppermill). It can make a huge difference and is like sitting in daylight. Get out and about – have a walk around the park, tidy your garden or walk the dog. Sit near big clean windows if indoors.
There are supplements which can help you make your own natural serotonin. It is said to be effective in lifting your mood, helping you to sleep and controlling food cravings. Don’t forget too that hypnotherapy can really help you turn around anxiety or worrying about life; it normally only takes a couple of sessions to learn how to let go of that worry and remember how to relax, so contact Philip if you need his help. Call or go to the website to read more and find out where to get light boxes etc. Don’t be SAD this year – be happy.