I get very depressed each time winter rolls around, and not just because I have to put my shorts away for six months. I suffer from something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) which means I have a strong reaction to the lack of light and heat in the day. Yes, I know most people prefer summer to winter, but my symptoms are significant enough for me to actually have this condition. I become incredibly lethargic, have problems sleeping and getting out of bed, and lack energy during the day and I’m snappy, irritable and tearful. People may all get these to varying degrees, but I get this so severely I have to take counter measures, so I don’t spend four months hibernating till I see sun again. The theory behind people getting SAD is that the lack of light causes an increase in Melatonin (the sleep hormone) and a reduction in Serotonin (the happy hormone*). When humans were less advanced and farmed the land, we’d all be getting enough light-even in Winter- but modern day means we’re cooped in offices or on the tube and miss out on vital sun time.
Here are five ways to help keep your SAD under control– they help, not heal, as there is no one stop cure, it’s more of an improved sense of well being due to managing lifestyle factors.
Botox for a better mood
It may sound odd, but having Botox just before winter could actively improve your SAD symptoms. Why is this the case? Some researchers believe that paralyzing the muscles between the eyebrows has a significant reduction on people diagnosed with depression.
Dr Eric Finzi started studying the effects of Botox injections on depressive disorder in 2006. He found that after 2 months all subjects had markedly improved in temperament. Her argues this wasn’t due to increased body image, it was because “if you inhibit the ability of this muscle to contract, you’re actually going to feel less sadness and anger. You’re actually going to have more difficulty feeling the emotion because feelings are not just something that’s happening in the brain.”
Richard Alleyne, science writer for the Telegraph says that, ‘The anti-wrinkle drug can make people feel better because it stops them frowning when they are unhappy which feeds back to the brain reducing the intensity of the feeling.’
Another study- this one by the US Association for Psychological Science found tested a group of 40 people with Botox. They were asked to read out a series of statements ranging in tone from positive to negative, before and after treatment. They discovered a small time delay on the negative statements occurring after treatment, which researcher David Havas finds significant because it suggests the brain takes longer to process the emotion behind the statements.
Mr Havas said: ‘There is a long-standing idea in psychology called the facial feedback hypothesis. Essentially, it says, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you. It’s an old song, but it’s right. Actually, this study suggests the opposite: When you’re not frowning, the world seems less angry and less sad.’
Dr Eva Rito from Psychology Today backs up this claim by describing her personal exeperience of Botox, ‘ For some reason, the paralysis of the muscles in my glabellar area due to the injections of botulinum toxin A rendered me totally unable to cry. Curious. But even more surprisingly, when I couldn’t cry, I quickly stopped feeling sad.’
I’m not suggesting we all jump ahead into have injectable treatments straight away, but if it’s something you might have been considering anyways, it’s good to have this on your radar. On a personal note, when I have had Botox during Winter it has lifted my mood- but I’m aware that this could also have been down to a renewed confidence in my self image.
Information from Dr. Michelle Magid, a psychiatrist with Seton Shoal Creek talking about the first placebo-controlled clinical trial of treating depression with Botox.
The Lumie Desklamp
Lumie are a tried and tested brand who excel in the creation of SAD lamps, and have just celebrated their 20th year in business! The Lumie Desklamp is their latest addition to the range- it’s a SAD lamp which works by using a very bright light, aimed to replace the light you’re lacking from the changed climate. The ideal level of light for treatment is considered 2500 lux (lux is how you measure brightness) which is 5 times brighter than a well lit room. You sit close to this light for a period of around 30 minutes a day and this should help counter your condition.
The lamp features a 2,500 lux output with 96 blue enriched LED’s. It also has touch controls to make it easy to adjust the lighting intensity and has a flexible stem so can be adjusted for your desk. It has a white gloss finish and looks very discrete- when it’s on it will blend into the work environment so no one will think you’re using anything unusual. It has a removable diffuser which allows you two types of light- a gentle one for all day use, and a intense light for an immediate light therapy boost. They say you’ll notice a difference in mood after 3-4 days, however I find it has an immediate mood boosting effect.
Add more Vitamin D to your diet
During Winter humans tend to get a little deficient in Viatnin D, as this is something we mostly get from sunlight, so it’s worth looking at supplementing your diet. Not only does i t help you maintain a good immune system (translation;less winter colds) but it also helps with healthy bones and teeth. Dr Downing suggests Vitanin D can be a cure for SAD as ‘one-off megadose of vitamin D (100,000 units, equivalent to 20 of the 5000iu capsules) works better on seasonal depression (SAD) than a week of bright light therapy.’,
This research was taken from a study by Vieth R, Kimball S et al in 2004 looking at the Randomized comparison of the effects of the vitamin D3 adequate intake versus 100 mcg (4000 IU) per day on biochemical responses and the wellbeing of patients. They discovered that 4,000 or 5,000 units of Vitamin D improves depression general over a period of 3 months- equivalent to what sunlight for 3 months might do. This isn’t a foolproof option- and the study is a few years old- so best take this in conjunction with some of the other methods.
Philips light therapy SAD Lamp
Is it cheating to have two SAD lamps in the same piece? Maybe, but this one from Philips is worth an inclusion nonetheless. Whilst the Lumie desklamp offers a subtle lowkey approach to light therapy, the Philips EnergyLight (pictured above) is more of a in your face approach. I’ve already mentioned that we measure light in lux, and that 2500 lux is 5 times the brightness of an average room. Well, this bad boy has 10,000 lux- 20 times brighter than a normal room, and 4 times brighter than the Lumie.
It’s less subtle as well- a big product that takes up a good portion of your desk and the light is quite blinding. You’re advised to look into it for around twenty minutes or so a day and this can be quite hard- I was unaccustomed to this much light ever and needed to acclimatize. The EnergyLight comes with a dimmer switch so you can adjust it till you’re comfortable and you can also change the angle to make it more comfortable. This is something I’d suggest for the home to supplement the office- a way to get your full on light fix at night, whist still getting some goodness in the day. I’ve used this for the last year and I start to smile when it starts powering up- a VERY positive sign, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s strange that light can make you feel this this happy, but there’s no denying it.
Science has often linked scent and emotions together, which is how an industry based on selling a lifestyle rather than a particular smell has managed to get away with this premise for so long. Smells can remind you of many things, childhood, holidays, special place- but can they have a long lasting effect on your emotions?
Smiley is created with the tagline, ‘the world’s first “antistress perfume’, and smells a enticing mix of citrus and praline. The formula is based on two chemicals theobromine and phenylethylamine- both found in chocolate, that which releases ‘happy signals’ in the brain. Absorbed together the phenylethylamine acts as a mood enhancer whilst the theobromine is a stress reliever. Can you inhale that feeling though?
Professor Tim Jacob from the University of Cardiff says, “the nasal passage is directly connected to your limbic system, the part of your brain that deals with emotions. That’s why your reactions to smell are rarely neutral – you usually either like or dislike a smell.” This suggest scent does have an effect on your mood- but to what extent?
‘Smell is the most direct sense,’ says Dr Charles Spence at the Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University. ”Pleasant smells lower the heart rate and reduce stress, and that in itself makes you feel better. Citrus is shown to help patients affected by hysteria and depression’.
‘Our scientific findings suggest that women who are depressed are also losing their sense of smell, and may overcompensate by using more perfume‘, says Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld in Science Daily, from Tel Aviv University. ‘Women who are depressed are also more likely to lose weight. With a reduced sense of smell, they are less likely to have a healthy appetite’. An interesting point he raises is that ‘the association between one’s sense of smell and depression has interesting implications for “smell marketing,” used by retailers to encourage shoppers to buy’.
Basically, I’m hearing that scent does have an impact on mood, but though we can be guided where to buy our fragrances from (the citrus family, primarily) we can’t take this as a completely curative approach as more studies need to be done on the amount needed to see an effect. There’s no harm in trying Smiley- or a citrussy alternative, as they’re pleasant, but don’t count on this alone.
One more last check if you should be considering any of these methods (alone, or in conjunction). How many points do you tick off this list?
An example of SAD Symptoms (from the SAD website)
- Lethargy, lacking in energy, unable to carry out a normal routine
- Sleep problems, finding it hard to stay awake during the day, but having disturbed nights
- Loss of libido, not interested in physical contact
- Anxiety, inability to cope
- Social problems, irritability, not wanting to see people
- Depression, feelings of gloom and despondency for no apparent reason
- Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, leading to weight gain
* Have simplified hormone descriptions for this piece.