When you are categorically NOT a ‘winter person’, there is no layered fashion or hot-cuppa-in-bed powerful enough to force you to embrace the dreariness of a cloud-plagued sky. You’ll probably notice your mood collapse with a thud as the temperature drops, and your motivation evaporate in front of the warm heater. Winter blues, we call it.
As it turns out, you could be experiencing a legitimate disorder with its very own acronym: SAD. Fitting, isn’t it? Seasonal Affective Disorder is actually classified as a major depressive disorder which recurs at around the same time every year and becomes dormant during other seasons. In other words, the symptoms are identical to those which constitute depression, only they are presented seasonally; loss of energy, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, irritability, lethargy, insomnia social anxiety and weight gain…which sheds a whole new light on that winter body vs summer body phenomenon!
SAD is caused by a triple-whammy of chemical changes in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness. Combine the lethargy with inhibited serotonin activity and a lack of exposure to natural sources of Vitamin D – i.e. sunlight on the skin – and your internal rhythms are thrown completely out of whack. Who knew sunshine had such power over us?
As a strain of major depressive disorders, the treatments for SAD tend to imitate those of other mental illnesses, including cognitive behaviour therapy via counselling, and antidepressants, as well as Vitamin D and light therapy. If you recognise a recurring seasonal pattern of depression, it is recommended that you flag the issues with mental healthcare professionals and, in addition, explore a range of self-care methods including complementary therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture.
Massage therapy has been used to treat a multitude of ailments for 3000 years but has paved its way into scientific studies over the past few decades as a drugless-wonder in the alleviation of depression symptoms. This is primarily thanks to its affects on reducing cortisol levels, the ‘stress hormone’, and promoting the production of dopamine and seretonin.
Massage therapy has been noted to significantly alter the biochemistry of humans both immediately following massage sessions and over the course of massage therapy treatment periods - T. Field et al.
The best part is that feeling of instant gratification that you get from a massage which many clients attest to as they emerge from the treatment room, totally blissed out, but it lasts long after.
As you settle onto the heated massage table and relax into your therapist’s touch, you’ll discover that there’s nothing more luxurious than a remedial massage in the dead of winter. Oil is heated to a comfortable temperature before being applied to the skin in long, sweeping strokes called effleurage. The pressure will increase as the muscles are kneaded and manipulated, stimulating the flow of blood and lymph vessels, in turn improving circulation and keeping those extremities warm. Massage’s ability to nurture both the body and mind is what distinguishes it as the ideal complementary therapy in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Winter is a season that needs to be approached with a little extra self-care and sensitivity for a lot of people, so know that you are not alone. Seek assistance from your healthcare professional if you need help managing, and remember to be kind to yourself. On the upside…only three months to go!