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  • Echidna Counselling

The end of Summer

Summer has drawn to a close, sunrise happens after 6am again, nights draw in before 8pm. It’s been a funny summer this year, the MET Office recently reported that the summer had been around 1°C warmer than average for the UK. Yet despite that in my local area it was also wetter and cloudier summer than is average, with approximately 50% more rainfall than the long-term average. Which consequently meant, 50% more cloud cover seen less of the sun than average.

This got me wondering about the experience of those people affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Research in the UK suggests that 3 in every 100 people are affected by winter depression, such that it interferes with their daily lives. And, on average more women than men.

The causes of SAD are not fully understood, but the reduced light in winter does seem to be important. There is a lot of research out there about the impact on daylights influence on appetite, wakefulness and mood. But if we have had more cloud cover, have we had less light overall? I’m not sure, but I’d be interested in hearing the experiences of others. I certainly realise how much blue skies and bright sunshine can lift my mood.

We all have different experiences of the seasons and types of weather though. Not everyone feels the same in hotter or colder temperatures, which could contribute to you developing depression (or any existing depression worsening) at those times. There is an increased awareness of SAD happening in the winter, some people have more difficulty in warmer weather. More research is needed into this area but some studies have suggested a possible link between higher temperatures and poor mental health.

But back to SAD, we know that when light hits the back of your eye it sends signals to the part of your brain that controls sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity. If there isn't enough light, these functions can slow down and gradually stop. Some people seem to need a lot more light than others.

Your circadian rhythm is influenced by the hours of daylight. One theory is that if you experience SAD, this part of your brain isn't working in the same way. This could mean your body clock slows down, leading to tiredness and depression. Some researchers think this is because your sleep pattern starts at a different time, due to the hours of daylight.

Linked to this is the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps your body get ready for sleep. When it's dark, your brain produces melatonin, and then it switches off as there is more light. Some people with SAD seem to produce much higher levels of melatonin during winter, increasing sleepiness. At the same time serotonin, a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep is also lower in less light. The exact relationship between these hormones and SAD isn't clear of course.

7 common signs that you may be affected by SAD include, irritability, low energy, weight gain, trouble concentrating, poor sleep, body aches, and mood swings. The important thing to consider is how these are impacting upon your everyday life. Does it feel overwhelming and negative?

Some common suggestions for dealing with SAD are, spending more time outdoors, considering taking Vitamin D supplements, trying light therapy (Lumie for example), monitoring your sleep hygiene, taking medications such as anti-depressants and talking to a counsellor.

So back to the original place I started, what has the increased cloud cover mean for people this year? Let me know your experiences.

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