Lots of people suffer a bit of a low during the winter months, some can experience a more pervasive recurring depression which begins as the days get shorter known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I wouldn't go so far as to say I suffer from SAD but I can definitely sometimes feel a greyness and heaviness about winter months if I don't look after myself!
There's been increasing research into the impact the lack of sunlight has on our circadian rhythm, our melatonin and seratonin levels. There also may be a link with vitamin D absorption. Vitamin D is known as the sunshine drug and around 80% of our vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun. Unfortunately holidaying in the sun over winter isn't an option for most of us. There are very few natural sources of Vitamin D in our diet (fatty fishes like tuna and mackeral contain Vitamin D - not my favourite foods unfortunately!) and lots of dairy, juice and cereal products are fortified with it. The National Institute of Health recommend 600 IU (15 mcg) and suggest that those suffering from SAD have difficulty producing Vitamin D. So it might be worth considering a supplement.
I've been curious about SAD lights for a while; a couple of clients have told me they've found them useful and one particular client of mine (who suffered from SAD) who swore by using a daylight lamp was most upset that she found herself having to save for a second one as her daughter had "pinched" hers and she missed it it terribly. The idea is that light boxes (using traditional full spectrum white light or the newer blue light) effectively replicate natural sunshine and give a positive effect to those lacking in sunlight exposure. Many sufferers get benefit from as little as half an hour use a day.
I was more recently reading about a Sunset/Sunrise Alarm clock and purchased it somewhat spontaneously when it was on offer! I'm one of those who often make comment about the dark days being miserable and I personally absolutely hate mornings! ....The latter makes for an interesting combination in our household as my other half is a bright and breezy kind of person in the mornings, ready to "sing" good morning and to have a full blown conversation, where as I on the other hand prefer not to speak to anyone for a while; I function, but on a quiet peaceful level with minimal engagement with others!! So the dark and dreary mornings don't really help my transition into "The real world"! Plus I'm naturally a night owl not a morning bird so really not a great combination!
My "investment", was in a Lumie Bodyclock Iris 500 which is a sunset and dawn simulator. The company Lumie have been around for sometime and supply light boxes to the NHS so I was hopeful! I wondered if this alarm clock might help me to be a bit more sociable and ready to rumble on these winter mornings... and thought it would be interesting to see if it did have an affect on my mood too?
The idea of these simulator lamps is that, using a daylight bulb they gradually come on simulating a gentle sunrise (and in reverse, a sunset for bedtime). The one I bought also has the option to use a diffuser for essential oils which, with my interest in essential oils, of course appealed to me too ....I will have to play around with some combos for sleep and waking up to use with it!!
Well!!! The results after a month's use? I'm not saying I've suddenly become the great conversationalist in the mornings BUT I've definitely found it easier to crawl out of bed. Actually I have been throwing my duvet off with some determination and shifting into 1st gear with relative ease! Which is very bizarre! Quite the opposite of begrudgingly emerging from the warmth at snails pace and having to sit for 5 minutes contemplating the next move off the bed!
I also really like the sunset mode - it allows me to read a little before going to sleep but the gradual reduction in light makes reading gradually a little harder as it lowers and this, rather than being irritating, I found made me drop off nicely without reading excessively and not having to turn a bright light off, then having to settle down. It made a nice gentle transition from wakefulness, reading and into sleepy zone!
So, so far I'm a fan. I feel it definitely starts and ends my day nicely and according to the manufacturer the light "resets your internal body clock each day to create a healthy sleep cycle, help you get up and feel alert, refreshed and energetic all day" .....I'm not sure I've experienced being energetic all day!! But I DO feel brighter in the morning. Has it improved my mood? Difficult to say.... I don't think I'm feeling too miserable about the miserable days, as I am starting my day off a bit brighter and that has to have a knock on effect doesn't it?! It took me a little time to get to grips with the programming on the light but I'm pleased with the results so far. And I like the remote control it comes with.
Though technically its not a full blown SAD light the manufacturer has registered this model as a Class 1 medical device. However if you suffer from SAD www.sad.org.uk recommend using a Dawn Simulator followed by a SAD Light treatment about half an hour after you wake up as the most effective way to treat SAD.
There are others available but you can purchase the one I've been using here plus also some essential oils for the diffuser! ....and of course if you want some help with a personalised oil blend, get in touch!
The other thing of note is that, since I now have this as my alarm clock, I've been leaving my phone out of the bedroom (which I was previously using as an alarm) and I can highly recommend doing this, as distancing yourself from the interuptions our mobile phones can bring, has to be a good thing!)
I will definitely continue to use my Lumie Bodyclock! Perhaps with prolonged use I'll become the morning conversationalist my other half has been hoping for in me for 25 years!.....
If you ask someone "How are you today?" the common automatic response you get is, "I'm fine". More often than not its a polite response (to a polite question) but it's often not an accurate response!
Ok so most people don't want to tell the world and his wife everything about themselves and maybe not everyone really wants to know every detail about "how" you really are feeling. But if you are asking this of a friend or family member you probably wouldn't be too taken aback or surprised by them telling you something about their recent physical health, for instance "Oh I'm fine apart from a bit of a cold", or "I'm a bit tired". However, you are less likely to hear about other aspects of their wellbeing. They're less likely to admit that they are feeling lonely, lost, upset or worried or that they've been drinking more to help them sleep or avoiding situations because they experience anxiety or flashbacks.
But the question is "How are you?" ....you, how are YOU? Yes you IS your physical being, but you is also your psychological being, your social being AND your spiritual being. You is ALL of you. Each part; physical, psychological, social, spiritual - all AS important as each other - the combination is what makes you.
The unfortunate reality is that there has been a long held stigma surrounding mental health / mental ill-health and much as I like to think things are getting better I sometimes still wonder! One hopes that the public are gradually becoming more positively aware and considering the importance of looking after their mental health; I increasingly notice posts on social media about anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicide etc. I am grateful for those who share such posts and hope that at least one person sees it and begins to rethink their perception of mental health. But I fear the sad reality is that many still believe it somehow doesn't apply to them!
I've often joked with the young soldiers I've worked with over the years that "we're all mental mate" and gone on to encourage them, that they think nothing of focusing on being physically fit but that their mental fitness is equally important AND that means that in the same way we can all become physically unwell, so too we can all become mentally unwell. The reality is we are all vulnerable - it just makes us human. We need to look after ourselves, nurture ourselves and do things which maximise our health all round, that increase our robustness physically and mentally (and spiritually!). If we have a temperature we acknowledge it and do something about it. When we become mentally unwell instead of hiding the problems away, we need to acknowledge them and look after ourselves as well as we would if we were physically unwell.
We know that uncertainty and the unknown can scare us, unfortunately this leads people to be guarded or defensive - a natural primitive response to feeling threatened. Yet we need not "fear" mental health; as I said, it is after all part of us. So what we DO need is education and understanding. With lifestyles becoming increasingly stressful & pressured and with people becoming increasingly isolated, recognition of stress and effective coping skills could be taught much more in schools.
We need to be able to acknowledge that when things become tough and we find oursleves pulling on all the resources available to us in order to cope with the stressful things that life throws at us, that sometimes, despite our best efforts we can become overwhelmed and there is a negative impact on our day-to-day life.
If 1 in 4 people in their lifetime will experience psychological ill health then it could really be you, your dentist, your friend, your teacher, your child, your family member. Yep it really could be you.
So "yeh mate you ARE mental!... You are a mental, physical, social and spiritual being. About time you acknowledged it and started looking after your mental health!!! .......so get talking about the elephant in the room!
So we’re coming to the end of “Mental Health Awareness Week”……. I hope it didn’t go over everyone's heads. I wonder how many people even realised that it was. I’m not a big TV watcher but I haven’t noticed a greater visibility of Mental Health on TV this week than any other week.......
There seems to be a week or a day for everything these days. I read somewhere that it’s about acknowledging the things we take for granted and well that’s what I’ve always thought Awareness Days/Weeks/Months were about - acknowledging the things we take for granted or neglect; remembering, kicking us up the backside, reminding us of important issues.
However if you search the internet for "Awareness Days" what you get is a rather interesting mixture of things we apparently need to be "aware of". It would seem however, that the lists also include days which we apparently need to be "celebrating" or be "paying tribute to", such as Towel Day, Rocky Road Dessert Day, World Goth Day and Sewing Machine Day…..
Sewing Machine Day - yes apparently sew (sorry!) Don’t get me wrong, making our own clothes etc is a great thing to be doing – in fact taking up a hobby and being creative is actually great for our mental health! But do people really take sewing machines for granted? Maybe they take for granted the people in sweat shops using them in China or wherever but I’m starting to lose the plot here. Ah yes this one isn’t about being aware it’s about celebrating…. or is it a tribute…. or perhaps it is awareness…. oh I don’t know? Is it important? Should I be getting mine out?!!
The point is, that the more special “Days” we make up the less special they are. We end up with just another day of this or day of that. I fear important messages risk getting lost, as people give up trying to keep up what they’re meant to be remembering today!
We have plenty to be grateful for, but do we need to celebrate all these things on a specific day? All just seems a bit gimmicky to me.
Of course the charities, health organisations and environment agencies want to promote and make people aware of the issues out there and I fully support that. Having a day to push important issues out there is valid. We lead busy and distracted lives in which many things become neglected and taken for granted so feel free to kick us up the backside and remind us of the important issues.
And while we’re on the subject of taking things for granted; what we DO often take for granted is ourselves, other people and the world. Incidentally these are considered key components of our belief system in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy CBT. Improving your relationship with yourself, with other people and the environment are pretty positive things to do. AND AT LAST, that leads on to….
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS!……….
The theme this year from the Mental Health Foundation has been Relationships. The MHF point out that relationships are fundamental to our health & well-being and that we cannot flourish as individuals and communities without them.
Having support, being able to talk to others, to socialise are really important to our Mental Health; we are social beings. Yet there are many in our society who are isolated; it has long since been the norm for extended families to be together and lack of resources impacts on the quality of “community” services. Ask yourself...
How many people in the area you live in, see no one all day?
And what about the quality of you own relationships? When you come home from work, do you ask anyone in the household how their day has been? If you do, do you listen? (I know I have been guilty of looking over the top of my laptop at a family member and responding but on reflection I’ve only heard part of what was said!) Do you pick up the phone and call a friend or go and see them or do you just text? How many arguments occur because a text or facebook message is misunderstood? No amount of emojiis is really going to give you the meaningful interaction you can have on a 1:1 basis. Does your family sit at the table to eat or in front of the TV or in separate rooms? Do you feel able to open a conversation with someone? Do you feel socially anxious? How do you start a relationship if you don’t feel confident or feel good about yourself? How do you improve your existing relationships?
Mental health issues can make us feel isolated and can impact on relationships negatively and if we don't have strong relationships we can find ourselves feeling even more isolated.
Good relationships can help maintain or improve our mental health so lets be aware and work on relationships. What changes could you make in your relationships?
For more information on the campaign visit Mental Health Foundation’s website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/why-relationships#sthash.L0y8vVO4.dpuf
If you have any questions feel free to comment or email
I hope that a few people out there have taken on board the MHF Campaign about Mental Health Awareness and relationships – it’s not gimmicky it's life and our mental health IS important!
Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, Integrative Psychotherapist, Nurse Specialist (Mental Health), Mum, Youth Worker, Trainer.......