THE WAY I SEE IT #14 : By Darren Murphy

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AS WE creep into autumn, many of us are left scratching our heads and wondering where summer has gone. I say gone, but to say that would have meant summer had arrived at some point and I’m not entirely convinced it did.

Regardless, we head into autumn and edge closer and closer to the part of the year where time rewinds and the sun seemingly disappears. For the majority of people it takes little or no time at all, to adjust to the winter darkness. Awakening on a dark morning and heading off to work, before returning eight hours later in the same bleak conditions, holds no significant risk.

In fact for winter sports enthusiasts it’s a great time of the year as they prepare for the snowfall which will ensure they enjoy the winter. Children are on the countdown to old St Nick arriving so they don’t have any complaints either. Not sure if he will bring me anything this year and, to be honest, if its socks and boxer shorts again, he can keep them. Also many adults can’t wait for the festivities and a chance to unwind at the company party. Possibly even a chance to have a little too much vodka and conjure up the drunken bravado they’ve needed to confront their employer or supervisor. Be warned, though, this is never really a good idea and almost always turns out badly!

With all there is to look forward to you might find it quite strange that for an estimated seven per cent of the British population this can be quite a difficult period – those who positively dread this time of year as sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Known more commonly as the winter blues, SAD is a seasonal bout of depression related to a lack of sunlight. According to MIND, the National Association for Mental Health, nine out of every ten people show some form of SAD symptoms. Let’s hold fire, though, before everyone goes running off to their GP for a five-month prescription of antidepressants. SAD may crystalize why for five months of the year you turn into scrooge but it doesn’t mean we all need to fill our medicine cabinets to the hilt with happy pills.

Fear not folks as there are things we can do to try and prevent the blues. In the winter when we see much less daylight and our body produces too much of the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleep, and not enough serotonin, the hormone which makes us feel good. With this in mind, it’s important we get as much natural light as we can and spend enough time outdoors.

In Sweden, where during the winter months they see a maximum of five hours’ sunlight a day, they actually have light cafés (or coffee shops) in which super-strength UV lights have been installed, and it’s thought taking in the rays while knocking back a latte can help correct the hormone imbalance which has developed due to the lack of light.

Rising electricity costs means most of us probably won’t be going out of our way to install super-strength UV lighting around the house, so we are advised by MIND to exercise daily, which releases endorphins and keeps us feeling on top form. MIND also says it is important to eat healthily by consuming plenty vegetables and oily fish and not overloading on carbs, which leave us feeling lethargic.

Booking a holiday might also be a good idea as having something to look forward to can help keep your spirits raised. Then again, if you can afford it, why not take yourself away somewhere with plenty of sunshine and cut out the risk of SAD altogether! How many women will be trying that on their unsuspecting husbands or boyfriends now? “Oh I’m sorry, honey, but its doctor’s orders. I’ve got to get some sun, it’s my condition you see?”

The majority of us will get by just fine, even if from time to time we are a little down in the dumps. However, if you find yourself close to tears on Christmas morning, don’t say I didn’t warn you about SAD. Then again it might just be a hangover you’re suffering from, which reminds me, don’t overdo it on the alcohol, it’s a depressant, too.

Have a happy winter, folks, I’m off to book a holiday, just in case!