Feeling S.A.D?

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Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Bethany Woodhead
Views Editor

The effectively named SAD (for seasonal affective disorder) or more affectionately, “the winter blues” is, as described by the NHS, a “type of depression that comes and goes in seasonal pattern”. Despite the acronym merely making me think of the glum little creature from Pixar’s animated film “Inside Out”, a SAD diagnosis can actually have quite serious mental and physical effects on a person during the darker months.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder align very closely with depression, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists describing typical depressive symptoms such as “a lack of interest and enjoyment in life”, “low mood and energy”, “sleeping and eating more” and a “loss of libido”. Interestingly, it is most common in women during the years they can have children, with females being three times more likely than males to suffer SAD during child-bearing years. I guess the common tag-line of Fiat-500 Twitter “needing a take-away and someone to cuddle for winter” is starting to make a little more sense now – we’re just fertile and depressed!

Although not directly proven, the current scientific explanation for SAD is the lack of sunlight in darker months stunting the work of the hypothalamus. This influences the brain’s melatonin and serotonin production, as well as the body’s circadian rhythm. Therefore, as the darker days set it, you might feel sleepy more easily, experience alterations in your mood and appetite, and your internal body clock can become disrupted. It’s a pretty shitty cycle to endure yearly, with some people only feeling tired and grumpy, while others are having to take time off work and limit their daily and social routines. But, fear not, for there are now a couple new methods for combating Seasonal Affective Disorder, without breaking the bank by flocking to a sunny foreign country each Christmas…

The most popular form of recommended treatment is light therapy, effective in 85% of cases, according to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association. Although not the most economically viable to students (Amazon light boxes start at around the £50 mark), a lightbox is able to replicate exposure to sunlight and make up for the shortage of daylight in winter. It is not harmful to the skin or eyes as it does not give out any ultraviolet rays, and it reduces the amount of melatonin produced by the brain (meaning you may actually be able to function for longer than 3 hours a day before diving back into the cosy cocoon that is your bed and hibernating for 15 hours straight). Lightboxes can also come in the form of dawn-simulating alarm clocks, turning on about an hour before your set wake-up time and gradually getting brighter, all to mimic a natural sunrise. Doctors and scientists around the world actually recommend these clocks for use all year round, to combat the pure anxiety that shoots like ice through your veins upon hearing the abrupt and soul-crushing sound that is your iPhone alarm. If Satan was a sound, that would be it.

One way to combat the physical strains of feeling tired and putting on weight due to SAD, as well as the mental worries and tensions, is with a good old-fashioned hot bath. However, there’s something you should add to make it just a little bit more special and beneficial… and no I’m not talking about a bottle of bubbly and a “bathing buddy” (although, off the record, I’d say that is also good for your mental and physical well-being). No, what I am referring to is Epsom Salt! Some of you may have come across this treasure on a celebrity’s Facebook or as a promotional aesthetic on the Instagram of “that girl who models from back home”. However, Epsom Salt can actually be very affordable and accessible, often found in your cheap and cheerful “saver” stores around town. It is a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulphate (which, when absorbed through the skin, can have amazing health benefits). Adding Epsom Salt to a hot bath and soaking in it can regulate the activity of over 325 enzymes in the body, reduce inflammation, help nerve and muscle function, prevent artery hardening, improve absorption of nutrients, flush toxins, cure skin problems, heal cuts, increase the effectiveness of insulin in the body and ease migraine headaches. In direct relation to SAD, the magnesium component of Epsom Salt is especially beneficial. Stress and tiredness drain the body of magnesium and increase levels of adrenaline. The absorption and replenishment of magnesium not only helps to produce serotonin and create a calmer, more relaxed sensation, but research shows that the magnesium also increases energy and stamina by encouraging the production of ATP (adenosine triosphate), otherwise known as the energy packets of cells. So, overall Epsom Salts in a hot bath supply a multitude of health benefits, many of which will aid against the struggle with SAD.

There are numerous other ways to deal with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, although most are just the usual recommendations for people suffering with depression, such as getting plenty of exercise, trying to eat well and so on and so forth. Nonetheless, we are beginning to see an abundance of innovative new products, backed by scientific evidence, which will hopefully make the dark and dreary winter months pass by just that little bit quicker.