BLOG -JON NEAL
The clocks are going back, (Sunday 25 October) the days are getting shorter and the nights are drawing in. For some of us, we’re looking forward to Christmas and New Year celebrations…but perhaps not in the way we usually would. My six-year-old knows exactly how many sleeps it is until Santa is due.
Personally, I count down the days until the Winter Solstice as well. This year it’s Monday 21 December. This is the shortest day of the year. From that day onwards, the days start getting longer again. Very slowly at first…barely a minute a day for a few weeks, but at least they are heading in the right direction.
And while we’re still a long way from the signs of spring, the longer days and warmer evenings, there are some things we can do to look after our mental health. And, of course, being active is a really good one.
Many people have heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but even if you haven’t, you might be aware that you become a little less energetic or enthusiastic about things in the Autumn and Winter months.
There is some science behind this very common and normal experience.
When we’re experiencing depression, we spend more time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the phase of sleep when we dream. In a healthy sleep cycle, dreaming helps to calm the brain down, switching off the worries and anxieties from the day.
But worrying lots about unmet emotional needs increases the amount we need to dream when we sleep.
This extra dreaming burns up lots of the brain’s energy, so we wake up feeling exhausted and lacking the motivation to address our concerns.
When it gets dark, our bodies release the hormone melatonin. This helps us go to sleep, but also increases the amount of dreaming we do.
As it starts to get darker earlier, more melatonin is released, which makes us dream more and causes some of us to wake up feeling low in mood, tired and lacking motivation.
So that’s the science. What can we do to keep our mood up and stave off the feelings of depression? Here are some tips:-
1) Get active outside – At Suffolk Mind we’ve previously been involved with RED January, where people raise money for us through sponsorship and Running Every Day to “keep the January blues away”. It works. I’ve done it myself the last three years and my mood has been better in January, I’ve slept better and had more energy. So getting active every day, even if it’s just a little bit, will definitely help
2) Make the most of what light is available by getting outside as often as we can during the day. A daily walk or run is perfect, but even creating a routine whereby you pop outside for ten minutes or so to have a break in the morning, midday and mid-afternoon can be helpful.
3) Some people find that sitting by lightboxes, which give out artificial sunlight, can help reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
4) Another factor associated with depression is a lack of vitamin D, which is produced in our bodies when sunlight reaches our skin. Research shows that increasing the vitamin D in our diet with supplements, oily fish or mushrooms can help to lift the symptoms of depression.
5) And finally, it’s important to try and reduce the worrying which results in too much dreaming. The key to achieving this is to find healthy ways to meet emotional needs.
Find out more at www.suffolkmind.org.uk