It’s easy to feel SAD at this time of year. And no, I don’t mean actually sad (boohoo), but the mental health condition, Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the mental health charity MIND, the reasons for why people suffer from SAD during the autumn and winter months is unclear, but a combination of the effects of reduced light levels, a disrupted body clock, low serotonin levels, and high melatonin levels, could all be triggers that set off this condition.
Living in a temperate climate like our own, we can relish the changes of the seasons, and the contrasts that each one brings. For most of us, Christmas means sparkly lights, cosying up by the fire with family, and frosty walks in the low summer sunlight. For others who suffer from SAD, however, winter can be incredibly hard and lonely. SAD can cause serious symptoms, such as changing weight, appetite and sleeping patterns. All these can combine to have a detrimental effect on your physical, as well as your mental health.
SAD can affect all of us
For those people that have suffer from chronic SAD the symptoms are severe and debilitating. However, the lack of light, hectic social scene and reduced immunity that occurs at this time of year can take their toll on most of us. SAD isn’t just feeling the ‘winter blues’ either.
Therapeutic Yoga Practitioner, Bo Forbes, explains that “Many people don’t realize that SAD has three distinct phases,” she says. “In the dead of winter, it looks like depression, with symptoms such as lethargy and carbohydrate craving. But in the fall and early spring, it is often characterized by hypomania, where people tend to have physical agitation, racing thoughts, and a decreased need for sleep and food.”
Traditional SAD remedies
Apart from upping sticks and moving to the Caribbean (tempting), SAD is treated like other forms of depression by cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, with the addition of light therapy. The NHS also recommends some simple solutions such as trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible (haha), making your work and home environments as light and airy as possible, sitting near windows when indoors (but the draft!) and the usual triumverate of regular exercise, a balanced diet and reduction in stress.
However, at this time of year as the barometer plunges, the days get ever shorter, the mince pies come out at every social occasion and the pressure of organising Christmas mounts up, that trio of exercise, diet and ‘no stress’ seems harder to achieve than ever.
How yoga can help
So, what can we do to help ourselves? If you’re finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, and are finding that you’re carb-loading crisps at the Christmas party, it might be that your body is offering up a cry for help. And this is where yoga comes in.
Light therapy can be effective for some, but for others, it provides little relief. For SAD sufferer Natalie Engler, light therapy had little effect, and it wasn’t until it was combined with yoga, pranayama and meditation that she was able to alleviate her symptoms.
Restorative Yoga is the Key
But it wasn’t just yoga that she found helped, it was specifically restorative yoga, Forbes again:
“Restorative yoga may look passive from the outside, but it’s very active internally on both subtle and dramatic levels,” says Forbes, “Our nervous systems are designed to respond to minute fluctuations in our environments. Restorative yoga, combined with breathwork, is a potent tool to recalibrate the nervous system.”
Restorative yoga really does what it says on the tin – restore you. It may not feel like much is going on, but as you surrendour your body to the supported structure of poses that open and re-energise the body, as well as allowing the body to come into a true state of rest, the body’s natural healing response is given the time and space to work its magic, without the interference of adrenaline surges or cortisol.