Seasonal Affective Disorder: Ripon therapist’s tips on how to survive the dark months
Last updated Nov 13, 2021

I have yet to meet anyone who is a massive fan of the long nights and short days that we are forced to endure at this time of year.

Actually I tell a lie, a weightlifting coach told me the other day he loved it. He said when it got dark early, it meant he could train and work late without getting FOMO (fear of missing out). Which I suppose makes sense.

And I suppose for some, winter signals a joyous festive season and countless cosy nights in.

I am certainly not in that camp, as I always seem to feel more tired and lethargic at this time of year, and definitely less motivated. And this does increasingly seem to be the case for more and more of us.

And last year’s winter lockdown certainly didn’t help matters – even though many of us actually managed to get outside more.

More serious

While it’s normal to feel a bit sleepy and unimpressed by the gloomy weather, there’s a point where our reaction to the changing seasons can be a sign of something more serious.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, often shortened to SAD, affects around one in 15 people in the UK.

According to the NHS, November marks the beginning of SAD, which can see people suffer from a persistent low mood, linked to a reduced exposure to sunlight.

And as many of us prepare to tackle the dark, winter months, I spoke to Lulu Ferrand, a Craniosacral Therapist (CST), based in West Tanfield, near Ripon, who is part of the Lisa Duffield Centre team, and asked her for her tips on how to tackle SAD.

Lulu Ferrand, a Craniosacral Therapy (CST) practitioner.

Do you have a lot of clients who suffer with SAD?

“I have some clients who come with SAD, but it is rarely the primary reason for their visit. It is usually part of the reason why they need help.

“I have a lot of clients who suffer with depression and when asked if they feel worse in the winter, most of the time they answer yes.”

When do you start to notice it becoming an issue?

“Definitely when the clocks go back.”

How much of an issue is it in terms of how it affects people’s mental health? 

“It goes undetected to begin with. Sometimes people feel lacking in motivation, a bit flat, no ‘get up and go’. This then manifests as a hopelessness and helplessness, then a lack of self-worth, they can feel shameful of their laziness.

“They become disappointed with themselves, which worsens the condition. They then begin to notice that their feeling of being a bit flat is  actually not ‘just a bit’, but they would describe it as ‘feeling flat’.  This then becomes ‘feeling down’ and later ‘feeling depressed’.  This can develop over weeks or as quick as a day.

“Often clients cannot remember when it all began. By the time they come to me, it is the depressed stage.

“I do wonder if some of the depression diagnoses started with SAD and then spiralled downwards.

“I know that the way we speak and think is an energy in itself. It will affect the way our bodies function. The more we talk in a negative way of how bad we are feeling, the worse we feel. And we can pick it up from what we are exposed to – like other people.

“I am not saying that this can help everyone, or that everyone can actually do this.  But we can do a lot to help ourselves.

“Notice how you are feeling without becoming neurotic about it. Get to know yourself, what makes you feel better.

“It may be exercise, yoga, meditation, being in nature, eating certain foods.

“Notice what is not benefiting you and eliminate or reduce them from your life – like certain people, particular TV programs, social media.”

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Is it something that is becoming more of an issue due to people looking at screens all day and not going outside as much? 

“I think the lack of contact over the past two years has created a bigger issue with anxiety and depression in general, not just SAD.

“In the 1960s babies were left without human contact in cots and the death rate was high. They discovered that if they had human contact the survival rate increased. 

“We have mostly suffered with lack of contact due to lockdown. The fearful news reporting has also played a large part.

“Anxiety and depression is palpable in the world around us. This is what we are fighting currently. And yes, increased a lot recently.”

How do you help people with SAD in terms of treatment? 

“Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is about rebalancing the body and mind as a whole.

“It can clear out and rebalance the nervous system. It is a hands-on gentle treatment and when the client feels safe and ‘held’ the body will let go of whatever is holding it back.

“Sometimes it is recent issues or traumas; sometimes we go right back to birth. Sometimes it releases as an emotion, a shimmer, a tingle or even a shake.

“Often clients with SAD or depression will say that they feel a blackness, a sort of shadow in their heads and during the session they feel the blackness turning to grey and then into white light. This has happened during sessions, many, many times.

“This does not mean that everyone with depression can be helped this way. Other times the client may improve to a certain level and then may need psychotherapy or hypnotherapy to deal with a deeply-held belief.

“Each client is treated as an individual.  Generally they require around six sessions to really get to the bottom of whatever it is that is preventing them from being in optimum health, sometimes quicker, sometimes longer.

“The sessions and the releasing afterwards can go on for several days and be very profound.

“Everyone is different and will respond and release in an individual way.  We work together to discover what suits best – a bespoke package. A journey of discovery.”

What are your top tips to help people to cope with SAD?

  • Take charge of your own health. Ask yourself what is it that my mind and body needs? Notice it early on.
  • Vitamin D supplements or increase foods like eggs, cheese and oily fish, which contain Vitamin D.
  • Change the way you speak, so that your language is positive and kind, particularly to yourself. (This takes a lot of practice.)
  • Get out in nature, even if it is raining. Find three things in nature that you think are beautiful and really appreciate the beauty.
  • Use self-help videos, which are available on Tanfield Wellness website, on breathing, grounding and guided meditations on clearing the energy in your body. Again work out which ones suit you and make a note of them. Keep practising them, daily if you can. There are also self-help videos on the Lisa Duffield Centre YouTube channel.
  • Be kind to someone else.
  • Give someone a hug.
  • Take time to do things for yourself. So often we rush about doing things for others to the detriment of our own well-being. Maybe start a new hobby, like join a choir.
  • Search for a CST practitioner local to you.

What methods do you use to help tackle SAD? I would love to hear about them. Email me at [email protected]

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