In a bid to sparkle up my garden I’ve strung a set of solar fairy lights around the banister leading up to the front door. Apart from being a joy to behold (love a fairy light) they’ve also provided an excellent analogy for how I feel in winter. Not bad for a fiver from Lidl, eh?
During the summer months my solar lights drink up all the delicious sunshine from the day and then twinkle all night long. Yet from October, when the daylight is but a distant memory, I arrive home from work and trudge up the steps in pure darkness. There’s not even a flicker from my beloved lights, which are completely sapped of energy – just like me.
I’ve pretty much always had low energy come the winter months but thought it was just one of those things. My coping mechanism has been to hibernate, light candles, watch box sets, have baths, eat all the crisps and wait it out for 7 months until the summer.
This year, in typical fashion, October rolled around and I found myself coming home from work and getting straight into bed – fully clothed. The drive home from work felt like I was moving through thick, sticky treacle. My face felt grey.
Still able to get up and go to work but certainly not my usual relatively sprightly, happy self, I realised that this change in energy levels came at the same time the clocks went back. Cue, Google.
Net Doctor threw a few conditions at me, mainly thyroid problems, all the cancers, chronic fatigue and MS. Despite having recently having my blood checked at the doctors and been given a clean bill of health, I immediately latched on to these, I knew I would die young! But then scrolled down to read about Seasonal Adjustment Disorder (SAD)- I ticked all the boxes.
For years I had a suspicion that I might suffer from SAD or rather it’s less aggressive cousin, the winter blues and had considered purchasing a light box but I had my doubts. Would staring into a light really give me my much needed energy back, or would it just end up filed away with the foot spa?
After trudging through lots of research online it did seem that a light box might be the answer. They’re prescribed on the NHS and I read heaps of reviews and testimonials from people claiming that, “a light box changed my life!”
Now here’s the science bit, I’ll make it quick as all of our attention spans are basically shot to pieces. The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.
According to the NHS website, ‘The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect our body clock and the production of melatonin and serotonin, both of which regulate sleepiness, energy levels, appetite and our body clock.’ You can read more on this here .
Convinced that light therapy makes good sense, particularly when living in a gloomy climate like Scotland’s, I contacted the lovelies at Lumie who offered to send me a light box for free to write about my experience – with absolutely no obligation from them to say nice things.
The box, the largest and brightest that Lumie sell, is jauntily named The Brazil and it arrived on a particularly rainy and bleak Friday. I had planned to go for after work drinks with friends but had cancelled my plans as I was feeling tired and listless. I wouldn’t say I felt depressed but I had a severe dose of the winter blues.
Excited at the prospect of feeling 100% alive again, I positioned the box on our small dining table, by the window, where I often work on my laptop. This is the ideal spot to get my daily 30 minute blast while slurping a morning coffee, blogging or doing my makeup. The Brazil is priced at £149 on the Lumie website and they sell a wide selection of boxes and light up alarm clocks in varying sizes and prices. The Brazil is one of the pricier options.
I switched it on and immediately 10,000 lux (a measurement of brightness as light reaches your eye) of feel good rays engulfed the living room. Despite my general hatred of bright lighting indoors, and the light is indeed very powerful, typically the brightest of offices would be about 500 lux, I immediately felt energised but was still skeptical, maybe it was a placebo?
I spent the next few weeks monitoring my mood, energy and zest for life, giving each a score out of 5. On a good day I typically score highly for all of these, although I’m more of a morning person and prefer pyjamas to partying of an evening -well, most of the time.
Prior to being sent the Brazil I must have been feeling really rubbish as I scored only a 1 for mood, 2 for energy and 2.5 for zest for life – looking back, I’m feeling pretty sorry for my November self.
By the following week, the scores had gone up, I was staying up later than usual, going to the gym after work and feeling hopeful but was still a little tired and irritable, scoring 2.5 for mood, 2.5 for energy and 3 for zest for life.
One month later I reported that the sky had been grey for weeks yet I no longer had the familiar, ‘stuck in treacle,’ feeling. I was perky in the afternoons, hitting the gym and going out in the evenings during the week- something I hadn’t done since the clocks changed. Score was a 3 for mood, 4 for energy and a 4 for zest for life.
Two and a half months later and I’m feeling good. Every morning I stagger through to the living room like the undead and switch on my Lumie for a morning blast. If I’m feeling drained then I’ll sit directly in front of it for a few minutes, pretending I’m on a sun drenched beach. This is really effective if I have evening plans and need a little pick me up first.
Going to the supermarket after a day at work no longer makes me want to cry and I’m back at the gym, going to yoga, slugging the odd gin and even managed a full Tarantino film without falling asleep in the cinema, all past 4pm on week nights.
Thanks to regular blasts of the Brazil, stellar sleeps and regular exercise I’ve felt pretty good throughout January, which hasn’t happened in years. So if you’ve been feeling rubbish this winter then I recommend having a chat with your doctor and looking into a light box.
Symptoms of SAD and winter Blues:
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- craving carbohydrates and gaining weight