Advice and tips

The winter blues… What do you know about Seasonal affective disorder?

So the nights are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping and we are all spending more time cosying up in front of the fire. For some the changing of the seasons is a welcome and refreshing experience, but for others it can have a detrimental effect on their mental well-being. As we are all currently going through transitional seasons, I thought I could use this post to talk about Seasonal affective disorder (shortened to SAD) and highlight its symptoms. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is linked to the seasonal patterns. Most people with SAD will experience negative symptoms stronger during the winter months, but this is not always the case. For some, their symptoms are more severe during summer and they feel a lot better during winter.

How do I know if I have SAD?

Those experiencing SAD may experience one or more of the following symptoms. These symptoms are similar to those experienced by people with depression but the difference is that these symptoms worsen with the changing of the seasons. The severity of these symptoms can differ from person-to-person:

  • You may feel down a lot of the time.
  • You may not feel like doing anything – SAD can cause an individual to lose interest in the things they used to enjoy.
  • You may feel highly stressed or anxious most of the time.
  • It may become difficult to concentrate on anything.
  • You may feel guilty, in despair and may become tearful.
  • You may develop a low self-esteem and start to feel worthless.
  • You may start to snap at others when you don’t mean to – SAD can cause individuals to become irratable.
  • You may lack in energy and find yourself sleeping a lot during the day.
  • Some may crave food which may lead to weight gain.

But what causes SAD?

I wish there was a solid answer to this, but the exact causes are not fully understood. But it’s most commonly believed that SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight, which impacts parts of the brain from functioning properly. Lack of sunlight can also affect and disrupt the body’s internal clock as the body uses sunlight to time various functions such as when to wake up and when to sleep. The body may start to produce higher levels of melatonin, which is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The body may also start to reduce the levels of serotonin (known as the happy hormone) it produces, which can affect an individual sleep, appetite and general mood.

I think it’s important to be aware of conditions like Seasonal affective disorder as it can be a life impacting condition for some. Be sure to check in with your own feelings and thoughts on a regular basis and look out for any of the symptoms above. If you feel you may be suffering from the condition, please do visit a professional as there are forms of treatment that may be able to help you such as changes to your lifestyle, light therapies, medication or talking therapies.

For those who may need it, places where you can find more information about SAD can be found below:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/about-sad/

I hope this post has been helpful and informative, Stay Safe x

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In today’s post we are exploring a mental health condition called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD for short). This condition appears to have become more known in recent years, with a number of celebrities (such as Leonardo Dicaprio and Justin Timberlake) talking openly about their own experiences of living with the condition. Also, there has been recent news suggesting the number of people in the UK seeking help for OCD has risen sharply since the outbreak of coronavirus, with 72% of those with OCD feeling like their symptoms have worsened (full article can be found here).

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, involving a vicious cycle of obsessive thoughts, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and temporary relief.

Obsessions are reoccurring thoughts or images. These are often distressing for the individual and make them feel uncomfortable or like they can’t control them. An example of this could be obsessive thoughts that a fire is going to start in the kitchen. These obsessive thoughts can cause levels of anxiety to rise in the individual, alongside feelings of intense fear or doubt. 

Other obsessive thoughts can include:

  • A fear of contamination from body fluids, germs, dirt or pollution in the environment.
  • A fear of losing control of themselves, which could lead them to carrying out behaviours such as harming themselves or others. 
  • A fear about lack of perfectionism. They may feel that things need to be an exact way.
  • A fear of forgetting or losing important things or information.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that individuals carry out in order to rid themselves of their obsessions and lower their anxieties. These compulsions often only offer a temporary relief from an individual’s obsessions, meaning they return and the cycle starts again. Relating to the example above, an individual may flick plug switches in the kitchen on and off multiple times in a specific way to try and reduce their fears of a fire starting.

Other compulsions can include:

  • Excessive washing of the body and hands.
  • Excessive cleaning of the environment around them (e.g. household objects)
  • Repetitive checking that their actions haven’t had a negative effect on or harmed anyone.
  • Checking that they haven’t harmed themselves – including checking the physical condition of their body.
  • Avoidance of situations which may trigger obsessive thoughts.

Individuals with OCD experience constant feelings of fear that something bad is going to happen. Although these fears can appear irrational to others, they can be intense or overpowering for people with OCD. Their thoughts replay over and over again in their minds and they can become stuck on these distressing thoughts. They may feel like they aren’t in control of their own mind, they feel like their thoughts are taking over them and putting constant pressure on them. The cycle of thoughts and behaviours that OCD creates can have a negative effect on an individual in a number of ways:

  • An individual may sustain damage to their physical health as a result of their compulsions – for example they may make the skin on their hands bleed from scrubbing too much. 
  • Some individuals may turn to self-medication in order to feel that they can cope with the condition. This can lead to them abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs which can cause further damage to their physical health.
  • Individuals may not feel in control of their own lives and may feel enslaved by their condition. Having OCD can make an individual feel ashamed of themselves and how they behave. They may worry that they are going to think like this forever and they can’t be treated. 
  • They may get anxious about being around others due to their condition which can cause them to become withdrawn from the world around them. This can lead to them feeling isolated and lonely.

OCD can also have an effect on an individuals daily life:

  • It get in the way of them carrying out tasks which could have an impact on their education, where they find themselves able to complete tasks in the set time due to their compulsive behaviours. 
  • Compulsive behaviours may also make it difficult to obtain, sustain and progress in a job. Individuals with OCD may avoid certain situations which can make it difficult to carry out their job properly.
  • An individual’s relationships with others can become strained. If they are with a partner who doesn’t understand the condition, this could cause disputes as they don’t understand the reasons for the individuals behaviours. 
  • Their friends and family may stay away from them when they find out about their condition due to the stigma around mental illness. This can reduce their quality of life due to lack of social interactions.
  • An individual’s obsessions and compulsions can make it difficult for them to look after others such as their children. This could lead to accidents occurring which could have a damaging effect on the parent-child relationship.

I hope that the information above is insightful. I certainly found out a lot more about the condition and just how much of an effect it can have on an individuals life.

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Bipolar Disorder

In response to my previous post, I thought I would start a mini-series of blog posts called the ‘60 seconds on’ series. These will be posts on a range of mental illnesses outlining definitions, symptoms and effects each disorder can have on an individual and their lives. The aim of these posts is to be short but sweet, allowing individuals to gain awareness on mental disorders when and wherever they have a spare couple of minutes free. A lot of information on mental illness is usually presented through the media, which can be hugely biased and exaggerated to create emotional reactions from the viewer or reader. But sadly this can also lead to stigma against those suffering from these disorders. I’ll include a range of resources and websites at the end of this post, should anyone want to learn more about the disorder presented.

Today’s post is about bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which an individual’s emotions become magnified, often unpredictably. Bipolar disorder can cause an individual to experience severe mood swings, experiencing either high or low moods. 

  • feel overly happy and energised. They may find it difficult to stay still or go to sleep.
  • feel like they can do anything in the world and may start to make lots of ambitious plans.
  • become irritable and impulsive, which can lead to them making reckless decisions, such as going on shopping sprees and buying things they can’t really afford.
  • have an exaggerated positive outlook on life, a heightened sense of self-importance and may spend an excessive amount of time doing the things that they find pleasurable.
  • Have a lack of focus, moving quickly between ideas.
  • experience a deep depression, where they feel sluggish, hopeless and very sad. 
  • feel worthless and like nothing is ever going to get better for them, feelings which can lead to thoughts of suicide.
  • display aggressive or irritable behaviours and have feelings of guilt afterwards.
  • lose interest in the things that used to bring them joy. 
  • become withdrawn from life.
  • feel unable to eat or sleep.

During both high and low moods, an individual with bipolar disorder may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) or delusions (believing things that are highly unlikely to be true).

However there is a period of stability for the individual, between these high and low moods. The number of mood swings an individual experiences can vary, some may only experience a couple over their lifetime whereas for others they may be a lot more frequent. 

Bipolar disorder can have an impact on an individual’s life in a number of ways: 

  • hallucinations and delusions may make it difficult for the individual to distinguish real life from their imagination.
  • some may feel that they are not in control of their own emotions. 
  • During depressive episodes:
    • an individuals self-worth can dip, which could lead to them carrying out self-harm or contemplating suicide. 
    • individuals may feel lethargic and lack the motivation to carry out daily tasks, which could lead to issues in their career. 
    • individuals may become withdrawn and avoid seeing people which can have an effect on their support network.
    • individuals may struggle with their sleeping and eating behaviours which could have an effect on their physical health.
  • During manic episodes:
    •  an individual can act erratically and sometimes irresponsibly which could lead to financial worries due to extravagant spending. 
    • They can find it difficult to communicate with those around them because they can’t focus and their thoughts are quickly changing all the time. 
    • An individual can become impulsive and this can result in them carry out risky behaviours with regards to drugs, alcohol and sex. 
    • An individual may act aggressively, sometimes towards others which can put a strain on their relationships.

I hope that this post has been informative and useful!

Extra information about bipolar disorder can be found by clicking on the links below:

Rethink Mental illness

NHS

Youngminds

Mind