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I love living in the Hebrides. There is something magical about the unspoiled landscape, the wide open moors, the clear waters, the beautiful beaches. In the summer months, I make the best of the good weather and I am out and about as much as possible… walking, climbing, riding my bike. I spend weekends camping and exploring all the hidden corners of the islands. However, in the winter months, it is just not possible. As much as I’d like to be out exploring the moors, the cold wind, the sideways rain and the fierce winds force me to stay inside. Then there is the lack of daylight in winter… it isn’t really bright until eight thirty in the morning and it starts getting dark before four o’clock. I seem to spend any time when it is light outside stuck at work in the office. I sometimes feel like I’m hibernating!”

It probably has not escaped your notice that winter is here with a vengeance. The realities of living in this beautiful part of Scotland are that whilst we reap the benefits of the island landscape in the summer, our winters are often cold, wet, windswept and gloomy. The long nights and short days, combined with the inclement weather mean that many of us are not spending enough time outside and this can lead to a noticeable drop in our mood and overall emotional well-being.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is linked to the winter months. Sufferers notice a sharp decline in their mood from autumn onwards and find the symptoms (such as irritability, low mood, persistent negative emotions, and general lethargy) are worst in December and January. Seasonal Affective Disorder is believed to be linked to the lack of sunlight. When we do not get enough natural light, our bodies do not produce vitamin D and a lack of this important vitamin leads to many health problems, including depression. A lack of sunlight is also thought to lead to lower levels of serotonin (the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter chemical) as well as leading the body to produce too much melatonin (the ‘sleepy’ hormone).

If you think that you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are a few things you can do. First and foremost, try to increase your levels of vitamin D. Look into eating more food rich in vitamin D or take vitamin D supplements. Although the weather is a challenge, sufferers should aim to make the best of what daylight there is. Some people find that greater exposure to natural light helps, but if you need that extra ‘boost’ you might find a SAD-lamp or daylight bulbs to be of benefit.

Exercise is always beneficial, even when it feels like the very last thing we want to do. If the symptoms persist, sufferers might consider visiting their GP or looking into talking therapies such as counselling in order to explore other means of managing their low mood.

Because of its cyclical nature, it can take a long time for doctors to diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder (as opposed to other types of depression). However, a diagnosis can be useful as it can help the sufferer to gain a greater understanding of the condition and when they are at most risk of its ill-effects.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy

Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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