Darker months and SAD: Hypnotherapy can help you thrive in winter
Most of us, and most definitely me, start to feel noticeably less energetic as the sunlight dimmers towards the autumn and into the winter months. It is like my body wants to hibernate. Going out becomes much less attractive as the cold nips in, and a crescent desire to curl up in bed drinking hot chocolate takes over.
Adapting to the seasons and finding enjoyment in different activities is necessary - but difficult. Our ancestors used rituals to help. Halloween is an example of a ritual to welcome darkens, celebrating the darker aspects of life by making fun of them: carving pumpkins, playing tricks, and dressing as haunting entities. I see Halloween as a festival created to prepare us for the hardship of the darker months and acknowledge its haunting qualities.
However, the lack of sun can affect some of us in ways that interfere with everyday life, relationships, work, study, and so on.
When it progresses to a general lack of interest and enjoyment in life, we could be looking at the presence of a seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - also known as winter depression.
In the UK, about three people in every 100 have significant winter depressions1.
Understanding seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
It was added to the diagnostic manual for mental disorders (DSM) after a South African psychologist who had moved to the United States noticed a significant change in his moods during the darker season.He went on to produce a full study on the subject and discovered it was a common issue, which helped classify it.
Causes of SAD
The causes of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) remain a topic of ongoing debate, with multiple potential factors being considered. Here are some factors that may contribute to SAD:
Vitamin D: Reduced exposure to sunlight can lead to low vitamin D levels, which helps serotonin production. It's unclear whether low vitamin D levels cause SAD or if SAD symptoms decrease outdoor activity, reducing vitamin D production.
Melatonin and seasonal changes: The pineal gland produces melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. In winter, more melatonin is produced with shorter daylight hours, making people feel sleepier and more lethargic. SAD sufferers tend to overproduce melatonin in winter, contributing to feelings of fatigue and low mood.
Circadian rhythm disruption: Circadian rhythms, which govern our sleep-wake patterns, are influenced by serotonin and melatonin. Difficulties adjusting to the changing light-dark cycles are believed to be linked to depressive episodes.
It may also happen that issues that had a lessened effect during the summer months will now come to bite. Sunshine makes it easier to leave troubles aside, and when the sunshine is gone and we feel more tired, it can become harder to find the strength to cope.
Effective therapies for winter blues
As multiple factors trigger low mood and depression, a multi-factor approach to prevention and recovery works best.
A combined approach with elements of light therapy, talking therapy, hypnotherapy, supplements, or medication (in more persistent cases) are all understood to help.
It is worth trying a SAD Lamp as an affordable and easy way to boost energy levels, although it may not work for everyone.
SAD lamps emit bright, sunlight-like light (typically 10,000 lux) that can boost mood by triggering neurotransmitter release, like serotonin. The Lumie Brazil is a recommended SAD lamp2, with the Lumie Vitamin L as a smaller option. They recommend using it for 30 minutes to an hour in the morning within an hour of waking to regulate your circadian rhythm and improve mood and energy levels.
Vitamin D and Vitamin C are often recommended, although it is worth checking with your GP if your body lacks Vitamin D. It is important to take only the recommended dosage as overdosing can be taxing on the body.
In certain cases, your GP may give you a prescription. As with most medicines, it can present side effects, and the doctor will evaluate the benefits vs risks before deciding to proceed.
As the darker seasons lead us to spend more time indoors, it can invite reflection and make us more aware of feelings and ideas troubling us. The lack of energy can make us feel less able to cope, and lower social interaction can induce feelings of loneliness.
On the other hand, this could be the perfect time to begin the journey of self-discovery, working to resolve and improve issues that have been causing discomfort for some time.
While hypnosis doesn't directly address the physical elements caused by the lack of sunlight, it can play a valuable role in improving emotional well-being, which can, in turn, improve physical symptoms thanks to the anti-inflammatory effects of becoming more calm and relaxed.
How hypnotherapy can help SAD and SAD-like symptoms
Emotional resilience: Hypnotherapy can offer tools to better cope with the emotional challenges associated with SAD, such as sadness, anxiety, and lethargy. Emotional resilience can help navigate the difficult months of reduced sunlight.
Stress reduction: Hypnotherapy can help reduce stress levels, which can be particularly helpful for SAD sufferers as stress can exacerbate symptoms and negatively affect mood.
Better sleep: Some individuals with SAD experience disruptions in their sleep patterns. Hypnotherapy can be used to address sleep-related issues by promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality, which can, in turn, alleviate other SAD symptoms.
Inflammation reduction: The relaxation response induced by hypnotherapy can reduce inflammation in the body, which can be associated with various physical and mental health issues, including mood disorders like SAD.
Hypnotherapy can be tailored to address SAD symptoms, such as reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and managing cravings. It can help enhance emotional resilience and promote a positive mindset, benefiting everyone, whether they have SAD or not, during darker seasons.
Here are a few examples of techniques used in hypnotherapy:
Guided imagery: a widely used technique in hypnotherapy that uses the power of imagination to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and achieve specific therapeutic goals. Imagination engages both cognitive and emotional aspects of the brain. It can significantly impact our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
Progressive muscle relaxation helps release residual tension, which we tend to hold in certain places in the body without noticing. Normally found on the shoulders and neck, it also affects the face, arms, legs, and back. Releasing it reduces stress and promotes healing.
Parts therapy4: also known as Ego state therapy or self-therapy, it is a therapeutic modality which increases a person's awareness of internal conflicts, unhelpful habits, and core beliefs by giving voice to inner parts, such as parts that want to binge, anxious parts, depressed parts, and so on.
Other therapies: Hypnotherapists often incorporate elements from CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy), DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) and others according to what suits the client.
Most of these techniques can be learnt and self-administered as well.
Consulting professional help
If you suspect you may have SAD and symptoms persist or are severe, please seek your GP, who can oversee your progress and prescribe medication if needed.
You can discover the power of hypnotherapy easily by finding a qualified hypnotherapist in your area through the Hypnotherapy Directory. Start your journey towards positive change today.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) | Royal College of Psychiatrists (no date). https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/mental-illnesses-and-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-(sad).
- Hannah (2023) 'Seasonal Affective Disorder & Depression - SADA,' SADA. https://www.sada.org.uk/#seasonal-affective-disorder.
- Hypnosis and hypnotherapy | Royal College of Psychiatrists (no date). https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/treatments-and-wellbeing/hypnosis-and-hypnotherapy.
- Earley, J. (2009) Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Inner Wholeness Using Ifs, a New, Cutting-Edge Therapy. Hillcrest Publishing Group.