Aromatherapy & Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Winter is coming. It will get colder and darker. The cold is not a problem – it is relatively easy to keep warm - but coping with the long hours of darkness is another problem altogether. We have had a hot summer, here in the UK, with plenty of bright sunshine. When we wake up in the morning to sunlight shining in on us through the window we jump out of bed full of energy. If it is a cloudy, dark day we feel much more lethargic and would rather stay snuggled down under the duvet.
At the end of this month we “put the clocks back” in the UK. We still have the same number of daylight hours – they just start earlier in the day but then so do the darkening evenings.
How do we cope with short daylight hours? How do we keep our energy levels up when there is little sun about? This is our perennial problem - are we SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is much talked about these days. It was identified in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. and his associates at the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Initially greeted with scepticism, it is now widely accepted as a “mood specifier” with a “seasonal pattern”.
Many of us have “light boxes” to sit in front of and get our “dose” of sunlight – albeit artificial.
We can add the herb cinnamon, which is warming and invigorating, to our breakfast in the morning.
We can carry nasal inhalers loaded with Peppermint oil to lift us when we feel weary….not only will it energise us but also clear our nasal passages allowing as much oxygen into our lungs as possible.
We can rub Sandalwood, diluted in a massage oil, onto our wrists to gently ground us and keep us relaxed.
Perhaps we should also be more accepting that this is just part of the cycle of the year – a time to slow down, take stock and maybe plan and sow seeds for the new year so when it arrives and we “put the clocks forward” we are ready to spring into the summer months once again.
We humans have a natural 24 hour rhythm called the circadian rhythm which is basically an internal 24 hour clock that cycles between alertness and sleepiness.
A part of our hypothalamus controls our circadian rhythm. That said, it is largely dependent upon outside factors like light and dark in order to function. When it’s dark at night, our eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Our brain, in turn, sends a signal to our body to release melatonin, which makes our body tired. That’s why our circadian rhythm tends to coincide with the cycle of daytime and night-time - and why it’s so hard for shift workers to sleep during the day and stay awake at night.
Historically, mankind has risen with the sun and then slept when the sun goes down but since the Industrial Revolution and our ability to flood a room with “artificial” light we have progressed to the point where we can remotely programme lights to switch on.
Have we have lost touch with the natural rhythm of the day?
In Winter our exposure to natural light is diminished anyway and UK winters mean that one in five of us have insufficient levels of vitamin D as sunlight is needed to produce the majority of our vitamin D requirements.
When asked about the change of seasons from summer to winter in a recent poll, 77% people in the UK reported that their energy levels were negatively affected, and 71% reported a poorer mood.
The majority of us in the West seem convinced that manically busy equals manically successful and living in the modern world certainly makes it almost impossible for us to strictly adhere to our basic circadian rhythm.
Maybe, occasionally, we should honour our own natural rhythm and turn off the television before we fall asleep in front of it, power down our computers, tablets and phones and instead take a bath with several drops of sweet orange oil in magnesium salts, and then soak in the light scent of summery orange fruit which is warming, sweet, light and can boost our mood.
Then we can gently take on board the fact that rest, real rest, is a necessary, positive part of our ability to function at our best.
Winter is the perfect season to acknowledge and reconnect with this part of ourselves.