Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is the first thing that came to mind on the 2nd of April, when Namibia officially changed to winter time. The change in time signals the transition from summer to fall; nights begin to get longer while days are limited to few hours of sunlight. Various textures and colours take over and it’s like the world is reborn.
I love winter. Winter means that I can now wear multiple layers of clothing without being the odd ball. I can spend hours snuggled with a good book and a cup of tea, and no one would think it unusual. However, I also hate winter because, like the earth, I too feel reborn. It is like I become a different person. I grow tenser and everything seems to irritate me. Things like getting out of bed become difficult, and going to work seems almost impossible.
I have come to realise that my moods are fleeting, like the weather, and my mood cycles are more prominent during periods when weather transitions. If you are anything like me, then you are probably an individual with seasonal-pattern bipolar disorder or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While colder months can bring about depression, summer has the ability to trigger mania (or hypomania) in people with seasonal-patterned bipolar disorder.
In my attempts to prepare myself for the coming winter, I did some research on what triggers depression in the colder months. I was shocked to learn that the sun does more than just give us vitamin D.; the sun, or more specifically, the amount of sunlight we are exposed to, impacts our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is just a fancy name for your body’s internal clock. Your internal clock is responsible for telling you when to fall asleep, wake up, fall asleep, etc. When this is disrupted it leaves one feeling tired and agitated, which can lead to depression.
The lack of sunlight also affects the human body in another way. As winter draws near and the body is exposed to less sunlight, the production of serotonin is reduced. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for stabilising one’s mood. The reduced sunlight also triggers the brain to produce more melatonin, which leaves one feeling drowsy and low in energy.
Fortunately for me, and everyone with SAD or seasonal-pattern bipolar disorder, there are mechanisms one can put in place to reduce the impact of seasonal depression (or mania). These include the following:
1. Soak up the sun
Try to expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible during the winter times. You can do this by choosing to exercise outside or walking to the shop instead of driving. If getting outside is somewhat of a challenge, you can use a light box for a short period of time to simulate exposure to sunlight.
2. Run for it
Exercise boosts the brain’s production of serotonin, endorphins, and various other chemicals that give you a natural high. You can up the ante by taking your exercise outdoors.
3. Brotherly love
Surround yourself with those you love so as to have support when you need it. Allow people to help you when you need it and participate in as many social events as possible. Being around people you love always has a way of boosting your mood.
4. You are what you eat
Eat a clean and balanced diet; this will keep your energy levels up. Eating the right foods can boost serotonin levels, as well as increase the effectiveness of antidepressants.
5. Take a chill pill
Stay on your medication. When you are down, medication can sometimes come in last place. However, medication can help reduce the likelihood of depression and keep your moods more stable.
Winter is coming, but this time I am prepared.