The winter feels are upon us; Earlier dark evenings, colder weather and less exposure to sunlight. Despite it still being Autumn, it’s starting to feel a lot like Winter as we’re on the run up to the festive season. With this in mind, people are starting to struggle with SAD (Seasonal affective disorder), otherwise known as seasonal depression. This is seen to be due to the lack of sunlight due to shorter days and that the lack of sunlight causes our hypothalamus (Part of our brain) to stop working properly. The hypothalamus can cause affect our serotonin (Happiness chemical) and melatonin (Chemical that makes you sleepy) levels, and also impact our body clock too. All of which can impact our mood, causing depressive feelings.
But I think it’s important to acknowledge that with Winter comes Christmas and whilst for many, this time is seemingly all about spreading joy, it is actually a very stressful and emotional time of year.
Speaking from experience here, I am a 26 year old autistic woman who has struggled with depression since my teenage years. It’s only over the last few years that I’ve acknowledged a dip in my mood during the darker months of Autumn and Winter, particularly around the festive period. I think it’s been there longer than just a few years, but the realisation of the connection only struck me in these recent years. It’s gutting because Autumn and Winter are my favourite months since I love the colours, the weather and getting cosy, but my body just has other ideas, clearly!
Being autistic, I’ve suppressed a lot of emotions and my ‘weirdness’ in order to fit in, keep friends from leaving me and to make my life easier, when on the inside I’ve struggled immensely. In turn, I developed tic disorder, which is harder to hide. But that’s me ay!? So, where I was heading is that despite trying to hide some of the things I struggle with, light balance has been one of them.
Light balance & autism – I’m not sure if this is something my fellow autistics can relate to, but I struggle to function if the lighting balance isn’t right for me. So if it is light outside but someone shuts the curtains or blinds, I’m thrown off and become anxious and agitated. The same goes for if it is dark outside and the balance of light inside isn’t right. But the one thing that the later months of the year bring is early darkness, which is something I struggle with immensely. The strange feeling that it’s only 5pm and yet it’s pitch black outside. It’s something that physically makes my body and mind feel odd and imbalanced, which brings me to my struggle with SAD and autism.
SAD and Autism – With the struggle of light balance and Winter, it kind of goes hand in hand. The days get darker, earlier, and we rely on artificial light to make up for the lack of natural light. So finding balance in this area can be tricky and I have found that my struggle with light, and the Winter months combined, I fall into seasonal depression. There are however ways that I try to tackle this!
SAD proofing your home – This could be one of the best ways to help yourself or loved one with seasonal depression triggered by darker months. Creating a space around you that brings light, positivity and ways to get those good chemicals flowing again.
- Letting natural light in, during the day – So ensuring that blinds and curtains are open in order to let as much natural light in as possible.
- Switching your alarm clock with a light alarm clock – This helps to reset your body clock by releasing natural light gradually.
- Investing in a SAD Lightbox – This is known as light therapy. It can bring light into your home and help with the lack of natural light by simulating sunlight exposure.
- Playing upbeat or soothing music around your home – Listening to your favourite upbeat music can help release those happy chemicals. Soothing sounds can help with mental wellbeing.
- Trying to keep your home clear of clutter – Visual and physical clutter can impact our minds. Keeping on top of clutter where you can, can be a positive start to helping clear your mind.
- Surrounding yourself with scents – Smells and scents can trigger positive feelings. Find a scent that works for you and use it around your home, whether that be candles, incense, perfume, home spray or even body wash products!
- Making your home cosy and well lit – Since it is coming up to the festive season, if you celebrate, you may want to surround yourself with warm fairy lights, candles and if you like, a lit tree. It helps bring in light and creates a calming, bright atmosphere.
Being outside – It may sound like a lot of ways to help ourselves with SAD are cliche, but genuinely these things can be beneficial. Getting outside during daylight hours can help us soak in the sunlight, as opposed to being indoors and hidden from the limited sun we have. Go for a walk, head out instead of staying in, or even sit in the garden or take work outside with a blanket and warm drink. It’s difficult to find motivation to be outdoors in the cold, but it is worth it, even for a short amount of time per day. Or perhaps just sit by a window in the light for some time to get that natural vitamin D!
Taking supplements – A few months ago I was struggling with fatigue, headaches and general depression. I was asked to have a blood test, and the results revealed that I had a dangerously low level of Vitamin D. This is due to my lack of exposure to sunlight. Having agoraphobic tendencies and anxiety, I don’t venture out as much, so being indoors has meant I don’t get enough natural sunlight. Although I have been trying to get out, I am also now taking vitamin D and multivitamins to ensure I’m topped up! It can make a bit difference.
It be the festive season, but that doesn’t mean you have to be festive – Let’s face it, Christmas isn’t for everyone, even those who do celebrate. It can be stressful, time consuming, difficult on the wallet and a very emotional time of year. It’s meant to be jolly and bright, but often we get lost trying to meet traditional rules, make plans, make huge meals and cram huge things into a few days. How about, take it at your own pace. Try to pull back from the pressures others are putting on you, and only do what you can and most importantly, what you want to do. Decorate to your liking, whether that’s not at all, or the entire house. Stay home instead of going out on Christmas Day. Order in instead of cooking. Buy cake, instead of making it. Give gift cards instead of shopping endlessly for the ‘perfect gift’. If people care about Christmas so much, they will understand that you want to find your own joy, instead of forcing yourself to find it in what everyone else wants you to.
Just a handful of ideas to help, but I hope they can be helpful to some people who are struggling. You deserve to feel happy and content, so please do whatever feels right for you.
Thank you so much for reading.
Stay wonderful & be gentle with yourself!