SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder has always been a weird concept for me. I guess when you grow up in a country where the sun is plentiful no matter what time of year, it can be a pretty foreign thought. Oddly enough when growing up in Australia, I used to cherish the winter. It was always such a welcome break to 35 degree days and humid nights. So when I moved to the UK I genuinely thought I would love it. And I did. I really did. Fast forward 8 years down the track and I finally have to admit that I am suffering from SAD.
WHAT IS SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depression that begins at the same time every year usually around winter. It is caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight which is apparent in winter months. It also messes with your body clock as your body tends to use sunlight as a cue for certain functions like waking up. The symptoms are akin with those of depression. You can feel really lethargic, and worthless. You feel like you want to sleep a lot more than usual and you can also become irritable. These are just a few of the symptoms and obviously SAD effects everyone differently. Some people get it quite severely and others only have minor symptoms. And then there are those lucky people who it has no effect on.
Like I said I grew up in Australia and this concept of SAD was something I heard about, but just couldn’t grasp. My first few winters in the UK were such a novelty that the shorter days and lack of sunlight never really bothered me. Eventually that novelty wore off, and this year I find myself dealing with my biggest case of SAD yet. I struggle to get up in the morning in the dark, and get this intense feeling of claustrophobia in the evenings when I walk home from work in the pitch black.
In the day I feel like I can get so much done, but come 3.30pm when there is a shift in light and I know that the evening is coming I start to panic. When it does finally get dark, which is usually around 4.30pm I feel like it is the middle of the night. I get tired and genuinely cannot be bothered doing anything. In fact the thought of doing anything in the evening stresses me – “but it’s so late” I keep thinking to myself, when in reality it is probably only 6pm.
HOW TO DEAL
For me dealing with SAD has been a process. I think it is important to acknowledge that SAD is a real thing. I also have to keep reminding myself that it will pass. I have tried to take some small steps though to get myself through.
1- Taking advantage of the sunlight when I can. This is hard because I work in an office. It is dark on my way to work and it is dark when I leave. But I have been trying to spend more time outside at lunch depending on the weather of course. Even being in the light for 10-15 minutes at lunch has helped me feel more positive.
2- Making the most of my weekends. Instead of sleeping in on a Sunday I will try and get up by the time the sun rises, so at least I get to utilise the daylight hours a bit more.
3- Doing things I enjoy in the evenings. This is even something as small as having an awesome book to read or a great show to watch. By having something to look forward to at home it makes me feel less guilty about wanting to stay in all the time.
4- Talk about it. I am lucky that I have a partner who completely understands what I am going through and is willing to listen. It also means that I have help in trying to get through it. I also try to talk about it with colleagues and friends, because it is nothing to be ashamed of and the more we talk the better it can be.
5- Stay active. This is hard because with SAD all I want to do is hibernate but even going for a walk on the weekend has helped me try and remain a little bit more positive.
6- Acknowledge that it is real. I think one of the worst things for me is ignoring an issue. By acknowledging it and understanding that it is ok to feel down this has really helped me. The more we ignore something and push it away the worse it becomes. In my experience it is ok not to be ok all of the time. Coming from a country where SAD really isn’t an issue meant that initially I was closed off to the idea that it was a real thing. I guess in one way or another as expats we all learn to adapt to our surroundings for better or worse.
Everyone is so different so your experience might not be the same as mine. If you do feel like you are suffering from SAD or any form of depression, don’t go through it alone. The NHS website has some great resources on where to get help. If you feel like you can’t cope don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.