When I was younger, I always used to mope around my room all winter. Turns out, this wasn’t just an angsty teen Goth phase – this is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Well, that’s my story, anyway…
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, is a type of depression that affects some people during the changing of the season, particularly in winter, when the nights become shorter and darker. SAD can affect people in a variety of ways, with some of the most common symptoms including:
Changes in appetite or weight
Difficulty in concentrating
Feelings of hopelessness
This is worse for people that live in countries further from the equator, since they don’t see much sunlight and so can experience darkness for large parts of the year. Fortunately, most of us are lucky enough to have some sunshine, even in the depths of winter, but we can learn a lot from those who live in the far north or south.
At the worst end, SAD can lead to self-harm, thoughts of suicide, or even death. No form of depression should be taken lightly, but people experiencing any of the symptoms above should consult their doctors immediately, as there are lots of possible ways to help.
As your resident tech guy, you already know what I would recommend first for anyone feeling the winter blues. Programme Alexa so she’ll give you childish joke responses? I’m better than that! There are much better gadgets out there that can help to properly mitigate the effects of SAD, such as light therapy. Perhaps the most popular is a SAD light box, which basically mimics the natural sunlight that you might be missing. So, if you are a hermit like me, turn it on for 20-30 minutes a day and you might see some real difference in your mood.
As SAD sufferers often have trouble getting up in the morning and falling asleep at night (sound familiar?), some light boxes can also serve as an alarm clock that imitate the dawn. There is evidence that waking with the light helps to improve mood, sleeping pattern and overall health.
Be careful not to set it too high, though, like I did the first time.
And if you need another convincing reason to spend 15 minutes more fending off the monsters invading your virtual town, scientists are here to back you up. Gaming has been found to “literally allow us to escape negative emotions and suppress them”. This has been supported by research at Oxford University in 2020, which found that gaming can make you feel less depressed and more connected with your friends and family, as well as with the internet community that you play with.
A healthy lifestyle can also play a key factor in managing SAD. For example, nutrition can influence your mood and your mental health. While we all fancy a cheeky kebab sometimes, you know how much better you feel when you are eating lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts. Regular exercise has also been shown to improve mental health, as well as physical.
Mind you, if you’re like me, you may be surprised to learn that standing up from your gaming chair and going for another coke in the fridge does not count as exercise. Personally, I’ve addressed this by getting two cans instead of one.
Therapy or counselling can also be very useful and valuable. People who are suffering from SAD should consider talking about how they are feeling, especially if they are feeling particularly low. The cold and dark has been made even tougher during the pandemic, when feelings of isolation get worse. We all need to make an effort to reconnect with our friends and family, but professional help can often make a big difference.
Another thing you could try is music or art therapy, as this can keep your mind stimulated and relaxed. Music can also help you to sleep, which can have a huge effect on your state of mind. Expressing yourself through art can be a good way to help you concentrate and keep your mind busy, while also expressing your emotions and feelings. Like me, you may discover you have a hidden talent…
There is no point being SAD when you can improve your mental well-being with simple steps such as these. Explore the options out there and if all else fails come back next time for a new game recommendation that’s bound to put a smile on your face!
Written by Ben James, as part of his regular RARE Youth Tech column.
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