I thought I would write this blog post because over the last few weeks I have realised just how much I struggle with this. As you know I have been away from the house spending a significant amount of time in hospital with Sam. All of this time I was without access to the simple things I have used to counteract a condition I have struggled with for a number of years. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression which people experience during specific times of the year. The most common seasonal pattern is for depressive episodes to take place in the fall or winter, and diminish again in the spring. It is linked to the amount of daylight a person has exposure to.
Historically 75% of the population worked outside, now less than 10% work in natural outdoor light. While this is fine during the summer, with the longer daylight hours. It is much harder in the winter, I find myself getting up in the dark and finishing work in the dark, very occasionally stepping into proper outdoor, natural light. Modern life and the life of an entrepreneur has a profound effect on nature’s life cues. A modern days work is no longer started at dawn absorbing the first sunrays of the day and does not finish at sunset.
The additional challenge of electrical lighting allows even later working hours. While gatherings and personal activities are no longer restricted by daylight. Basically, these factors have significantly impacted our body’s natural ability to regulate our body clock. In the UK and Ireland, we are susceptible to SAD because of where we are situated in the Northern Hemisphere, and the fact that we experience significant changes in seasonal light levels.
Long periods of gloomy weather, something the UK is renowned for, can change your mood even if we only experience a few hours of it. Add this to our hectic lifestyles and less than mood friendly winter weather – no wonder we feel the effects. Mammals in the natural world respond to light, it allows us to maintain our circadian rhythms. It is these rhythms that regulate our bodily functions such as digestion, energy, appetite, sleep quality and of course mood. Without sufficient levels of morning light, these rhythms are not triggered and our body fails to produce the hormones needed to feel vibrant, awake and ready to embrace the day. Instead, we feel sluggish, lethargic and moody.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Firstly its most commonly identified by a loss of pleasure or interest in everyday tasks, such as working or socialising.
You may also notice some of the following:
Supersensitivity to stress, where you are quick to anger or feel anxious.
Avoidance of social interactions with colleagues or community members.
Loss of passion towards your job, or tasks you usually enjoy.
Apathy towards your work and goals and trouble concentrating.
Oversleeping and missing or nudging important commitments.
Afternoon sweet treat cravings.
You need the entire weekend on the sofa to recover from the exhaustion of the week.
How SAD affects entrepreneurs?
For any kind of solo work, SAD can affect you more than most. Adding the pressure to meet deadlines, source new business, and shower your brides and couples with the adoration and reassurance they need does not help.
SAD has a tendency to amplify feelings of overwhelm or mental blur, which can interfere in your ability to get anything done, even the simplest task.
It can also lead to significant mood swings, leading to critical thoughts like “I am not good enough”, or “I am so lazy” adding to the debilitating feelings of worry and avoidance.
How can you help yourself?
First things first, make your health an important priority. Exercise, eat well, drink plenty of water, and make sure you get a full 8 hours sleep a night. Make smart decisions based on how you are feeling, and try not to judge or overthink the decisions you are making. Working alongside the symptoms you feel is the best way to manage the duration of these feelings and the conditional effects.
Set realistic expectations of yourself, working around the feelings of overwhelm and mental blur experienced in this state. Try to counteract the interference, and adopt a healthier more self-considerate lifestyle. Look at that to do list, work in bursts, book your time and allocate jobs clearly and with precision. Breakdown big projects with clarity and focus.
Move along judgement, you are not needed here. Quit the self-bashing, concentrate on what you are achieving and what you have the capacity to do. Celebrate the steps forward you are making, and try to approach everything with a clear, calm mental strength and maturity. The minute you hear the shouty, overbearing comparison biased internal voice – step away, reset, breathe and approach from another angle.
Find the light. Invest in a lightbox (one which provides 10,000 lux intensity of light), the stimulate sunshine, and increase your production of serotonin (the mood boost hormone). This is mine here.
Comfort. Keep yourself warm at all times.
Food. Eat a healthy, balanced diet topping up with vitamin D and magnesium friendly foods. Vitamin D foods, salmon, oily fish, canned tuna, oysters, shrimp, egg yolks, mushrooms, cows milk, soy milk, orange juice and oatmeal. Magnesium foods, dark chocolate, avocados, nuts (almonds, cashew and brazil), legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, and soybeans), tofu, seeds (flax, pumpkin and chia), and wholegrains (wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat and quinoa), leafy greens (kale, spinach, mustard and turnip greens) and finally good old bananas.
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