Photo by Thought Catalog on UnsplashAre you gatvol of too many afternoon braais, flip flops, and nighttime swims? Nah.It’s not easy for South Africans to say hamba kahle to summer.Norman E. Rosenthal, a South African physician who swapped the Saffa sun for a USA winter, was so affected by the change that he became the first to explore the effects as a medical condition. After noticing that he felt less productive in the winter but bounced back in spring, Rosenthal and his team went on to pioneer the now well-known Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is SAD? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a recurring depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5 states that the criteria for diagnosis stipulate a depression that begins and ends during a specific season every year, for at least two years. It occurs most frequently in winter but can also occur in summer.

Are you at risk?

Our land has an enviable climate, enjoying the sun even in our coldest season. The coming months are unlikely to impact South Africans with the same severity as people further from the equator. However, even mild seasonal changes are proven to impact moods, energy levels, sleep, and appetite to some degree so we must be intentional about our mental health in this transition.Person daydreaming in dark room with no sunshine

Check in with yourself for a mood audit. Do you…

a) need more sleep?b) experience heightened moodiness?c) daydream about the Maldives?

These are normal, as is:

– Sadness- Cravings for carbohydrates and sugars- Frequently being teary- Physical and mental lethargy- Difficulty in concentrating- Disconnected from others- HopelessnessIt may comfort you to know it’s not all in your “attitude”. These feelings have physical causes. We’ll take a closer look at what causes these symptoms and share ways to keep feeling strong.

How winter affects the body

It’s not called fun in the sun for nothing. Here’s what happens when your body is exposed to less sunshine:

– Serotonin dips

Sunbeams carry an invisible bounty of Vitamin D, a critical ingredient for serotonin production. If you don’t get enough Vitamin D, you lack adequate levels of serotonin which is responsible for regulating your moods.

– Melatonin increases

This sleep-promoting hormone is produced in response to darkness. When there is too much of it, you feel sleepy all the time.

– Circadian rhythms desynchronize

Your 24-hour internal body clock works with melatonin and serotonin levels to respond to seasonal light changes. Your sleep-wake cycles are therefore disrupted when these are unbalanced.

Try these tips:

Follow national measures

measures Photo by pixpoetry on UnsplashFight mask-and-measure fatigue. Always act responsibly towards yourself and others, because if anything has highlighted the message of Ubuntu “I am because you are”, it’s the pandemic.

It’s all about the rays

sunshine outside Photo by Emma Simpson on UnsplashGardens, balconies, bedroom windows, public parks – be on the lookout for your spot in the sun. If need be, adapt to possible lockdown regulations with natural lighting at home. Trim trees in front of windows, move furniture and plan appropriately. If your kitchen window lets in sun, do a daily de-stress coffee break right there. Same time, same place.

Prioritize movement

Yoga Photo by cottonbro from PexelsWhile we don’t have to run 5 km around our complexes again (please), remember that endorphins kick sadness to the curb. Take advantage of free Youtube workouts to regulate sleep, promote brain functioning and charge your batteries. There’s no need to be intimidated by pre-lockdown ideals; just move in a way that you enjoy.

Laugh with someone

laugh Photo by cottonbro from Pexels You can physically feel the dopamine boost from some relationships, even over a call. Don’t feel like you have much to say? Pop on that huge eye-mouth filter thing and take it from there, or use boardgamearena.com for some online gaming.

Eat well

healthy food Photo by Sara Dubler on UnsplashDon’t feel like the drive to the shops? Remember to keep a supply of wholesome basics in your cupboards. Wholewheat toast with an egg is better than eating nothing before choc-o-clock. Sustenance is key until you feel up to trying a nutritious (and exciting) new recipe.

Set a bedtime

Sleep Photo by elizabeth lies on UnsplashGoing to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps normalize circadian rhythms, giving your melatonin levels a fighting chance. This may seem easy but we all know the damage a good work-from-home Netflix binge can do to.

Experts are for everyone

When you need someone to talk to, please don’t ignore it.In a time where we’re not able to reach out via traditional social avenues, we are more vulnerable to negative thought spirals.If you are looking for assistance, please contact the Depression and Anxiety Support Group (SADAG) on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 and speak to a trained counsellor who can assist you further. Their offices are open 7 days a week from 8 am – 8 pm.Their substance abuse line is 0800 12 13 14 and is available 24hrs.Alternatively, you can email Zane at zane@sadag.org.

Other emergency contacts include: 

  • Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline – 0800 70 80 90
  • Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 567 567SADAG Mental Health Line – 011 234 4837
  • Cipla Whatsapp Chat Line – 076 882 2775

Visit sadag.org for more information.

Take note that this is not an article appropriate for medical diagnosis and is based on available research. Please get in touch with a professional if you are concerned.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association.  2013.  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5).  USA: American Psychiatric Association.  Available at: <http://repository.poltekkes-kaltim.ac.id/657/1/Diagnostic%20and%20statistical%20manual%20of%20mental%20disorders%20_%20DSM-5%20%28%20PDFDrive.com%20%29.pdf >  [Accessed 18 March 2021].

Melrose, S.  2015.  Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches.  National Library of Medicine.  Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673349/#B1> [Accessed 18 March 2021].

Rabbitt, M.  2020.  What Is Serotonin and How Does It Affect Your Mood?  Health.com.  Available at: <https://www.health.com/mind-body/what-is-serotonin> [Accessed 18 March 2021].

SADAG.  n.d.  SAD: Beating the Winter Woes.  SADAG.  Available at: <https://sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=148:sad-beating-the-winter-woes&catid=61&Itemid=143>  [Accessed 18 March 2021].Read more on PRO-Self.

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