Problems with anxiety and excess worry are often triggers that eventually lead to problems with depression, as well as being psychological disorders in their own right. Often, there is a large mental component to clinical depression – feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings that you can’t cope and other feelings along those lines all play their part. Long-term stress and burnout also are factors that can be triggers.
All of these physical factors are things that people often address using hypnotherapy, as this is one way of getting deep into the psyche to explore and deal with underlying issues. These underlying issues are often what lie behind problems with anxiety, depression, panic attacks and the like.
There can also be a physical side to depression and its cronies. Sometimes, long-term illness can result in this sort of mental problem, although it could be argued which is the cause and which is the effect. Sometimes, problems in brain chemistry are to blame.
And sometimes, the problem is SAD. Thanks to the climate we have here in Queensland, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) shouldn’t be a problem, as this is usually caused by a lack of exposure to natural sunlight. However, although people who have lived here for a while are less likely to suffer from SAD, if you are a traveller into this area or if you usually live here and go elsewhere for business reasons, you may encounter problems with it. Even if you live here year round, SAD may become a problem if you spend most of your time indoors under artificial lights and/or are on night shift for a lot of the time.
Now, SAD is a purely physical phenomenon. While it is in your mind, all right, it is all to do with your brain chemicals and your hormones (no, not your sex hormones – some of the other ones!). Your pineal gland is sensitive to the amount of bright sunlight you are exposed to, and this gland is responsible for releasing melatonin into your system – one of the feel-good hormones. If your pineal gland doesn’t get enough sunlight, it doesn’t produce enough of what it needs to in order to feel good.
So what you always had a hunch was true actually is true: dull gloomy weather really does make you feel dull and gloomy. The problem is most pronounced in higher latitudes and especially in Scandinavian countries, where SAD can look like actual full-on clinical depression – in many ways, it is full-on clinical depression – but it clears up almost like magic once the darker days of winter are over. The effects of SAD are less pronounced here on the Gold Coast, but we all know that gloomy weather, especially if we’ve had a wet week, makes everyone feel a bit downcast. If you’ve already got a slight melancholic temperament, then you literally can get a bit under the weather in your mood.
So what can you do about SAD, whether you get the milder version we’re likely to get here or the more extreme one you may encounter if you spend a significant amount of your time at higher latitudes?
The first thing you can do is to increase your exposure to sunshine. We’ve got plenty of sunshine, so make the most of it! Even if you’re a bit downcast and despondent for some other reason, sunshine does stimulate your body to produce those feel-good chemicals (which is why so many people come to this part of the world to retire or to go on holiday – all our lovely sunshine makes them feel good). If possible, exercise in the outdoors rather than inside under artificial lights. A walk at lunchtime if you work in an office might be all that’s needed. While you always need to be careful and take precautions so you don’t get sunburned, you need a bit of sunlight straight onto your skin, without sunscreen or any of the other slip-slop-slap-wrap precautions – five minutes in the late afternoon or first thing in the morning won’t hurt you and will do you good.
Another thing you can to is to open the curtains more. This way, your body will perceive the natural light and respond to it. Some people suggest sleeping with your curtains open, but this can be counterproductive, as darkness is needed for a good night’s sleep (and bad sleep can be a real problem in its own right for depression, anxiety and the like). Open the curtains as soon as you can, whatever you do, and make sure you look out of the window. If you work in a cubicle at your office and you can’t see out of the window, make sure your route to the water cooler, the lavatory and the photocopier take you past a window so you can get as much exposure to it as you can. Alternatively, talk to your manager about setting up some mirrors in strategic places to reflect incoming sunlight around the room so everyone gets some (should reduce the lighting bill, too!).
Diet can also play a role. Researchers found that there was one exception in the Nordic countries when it came to SAD: Iceland. Iceland had the high latitudes and a similar genetic mix to Norway and Sweden, etc. but didn’t have the same incidence of SAD. The answer was probably fish, which the Icelandic people ate a lot more of. Here, we’re talking about cold-water oily fish like mackerel and salmon.
As well as exercising in the open air, relaxing in the outdoors is also good – and it’s good for more mental issues than SAD. Sit somewhere outdoors, watch the clouds roll by, listen to the sounds of the natural world around you (even if this is just a sparrow or the leaves rustling in the trees). Leave your smart phone in your bag or pocket and switch off. It’ll do you a lot of good.