Blog – Quick tricks to help you sleep

Do you lay awake at night not particularly worrying but simply thinking about things?  Maybe it’s shopping lists, tasks you need to do in the morning or something you mustn’t forget.

Here are a couple of tricks that you can employ to help you get back to sleep:

Use a notepad or a reminder on your phone.

If there is something you must remember to do, write it down.  Either keep a notepad by your bed or use a notepad app on your phone.  I use Google Keep and I also create reminders on my phone that beep at me when I need to do something I might forget.   In doing this you are getting the thought out of your head and the paper can remember it for you.

Use my mother’s trick of “alphabeticalising”

This was a trick my mother taught me years ago and I have used it so many times when I can’t sleep.

  1. Pick a subject that you know fairly well, I go with crystals, birds, towns or countries usually.
  2. Start at the letter A and name something from that subject, so if I was going with towns I would go with Amsterdam.
  3. Move on to the next letter and repeat the process.  B – Berlin.
  4. Keep working through the alphabet until you get stuck.  This is what you are aiming for.  When you can’t think of a town repeat the letter in your mind waiting for a word to appear.  So if I was stuck on J I would be laying there thinking “j….j….j…j….ja…. jb…jc…jd….je…jf….” trying to see if a word pops into my mind.
  5. Hopefully, while you are repeating the letter you drop through the gaps and fall asleep.
  6. If you get to Z and you’re still not asleep pick another subject and go again.  At the worst times I limited myself to green crystals, knowing that green is the most common colour in my collection but is still limited.

This could be considered a form of mindfulness, you’re repeating what equates to a mantra that blocks out the thoughts and bores your mind until you sleep.

Use audiobooks

My most common tool is an old MP3 player with an audiobook that I have heard before loaded onto it.   It lives in it’s speaker dock and when I wake I turn on the speaker, unpause the audiobook and set the volume.

When I started using this I could lay back and listen, in the dark, with my eyes closed.  Knowing the story meant I didn’t need to listen to hear what happened next and I could slowly drift off to sleep.  These days I have programmed my brain to recognise the process of turning it on as an instruction to go back to sleep and I rarely hear more than a few seconds.

Bach Flower Remedies

These are really effective for these situations and the most common one would be White Chestnut.  This fits the situation of annoying random thoughts perfectly.  I keep a bottle by the bed and if I really can’t get back to sleep or wake a number of times I take a couple of drops straight from the bottle and I am off again.

If this particular remedy doesn’t work then look into Oak, Mimulus, Aspen, Impatiens, Olive or Vervain.

Sleep is really important in living with SAD and if we can get this right then a lot more of the symptoms become easier.

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Blog – Using your light box

Light therapy is such a wonderful and simple tool to use to help with the symptoms of SAD but if not done properly it can appear to be useless.

Here are a few things you need to check to ensure you are getting the most out of your light.

Do you have the right light?

Studies have shown that your light needs to be classed as at least 10,000 lux.  Lux is the measurement of light at any specific distance from the source but the level drops off the further away from the source you measure. Any light over a certain brightness can be 10,000 lux but if this is only measured an inch away from the source it will be useless as a therapeutic light for SAD.  This is why size really matters.  Larger lights emit 10,000 lux at a greater distance meaning it doesn’t have to be on the end of your nose to work. Smaller lights can be 10,000 lux at a sensible distance but to achieve this they have to be much brighter and this can lead to headaches and dizziness.

Do you have your light in the right place?

Many people don’t have their light close enough to them.  As I mentioned above, it needs to be at a distance where you are getting 10,000 lux when it reaches your eyes.  The manual for your light should tell you what distance this is or you can obtain a light meter that will help you put it in the right place.

Are you using your light at the right time?

Although for most people morning use is the most effective it can differ from person to person.  Some find that if they use their light in the morning they are tired again at 8pm and go on to wake in the early hours of the morning.  In these cases it might be that it is better to use your light in the afternoon or evening.  Other people find that they need some kind of light all day long as the effects of their lamp wear off. Effective light use must be tailored to your personal needs.

This test can help you find out when the best time is for you to use your lamp.  However, once you have started using your light pay attention to how it affects you and work with your own responses.

Are you using it for the right length of time?

Most manuals that come with light boxes say to use them for 30 minutes, but is that right for you?  Some people need a much longer period of time.  If the standard 30 minutes isn’t working for you try an hour.  I personally use a smaller, lower lux light all day at work as I find that the effects of my large light have worn off by the time I get to work.

Are you consistent with your light?

Some people find instant relief from using their light but other people find it can take up to a few weeks to notice a difference.  It is important that you use your light at the same time every day.  Unlike taking medication as and when you feel you need it this light is affecting the basic rhythms of your body and if it is not kept up the body will go back to its natural state.  This means for the best results you need to make sure you use it at the same time, even at the weekends.

Light therapy helps a lot of people, but there are some that do not find it helpful.  If this is the case it might be worth investigating other causes of your SAD.

For more information on light therapy please visit the Center for Environmental Therapeutics’s page

 

I can smell autumn……

It’s mid August and here in the UK there has been a definite turn in the seasons.  We’ve had some glorious weather for the last few weeks and it has been great, considering what an awful time we had in May and June.

I have already noticed, though, my fellow SADers commenting on how they are feeling the change and it is bringing up thoughts on the impending winter months.  This means we are at a point in the year when we have to be super on our case mentally.  It is so easy at this time to drop into fear, negativity, anxiety, and depression simply by thinking about winter, and that isn’t going to help you one tiny bit.  If we don’t stay focused on this moment we risk losing sight of the beautiful August day we are having by living as it if is December.

So what can we do?  It’s natural to fear what we are pretty sure is coming, but do we want to ruin these weeks of summer?

Remember what the date is.
Today is August 17th.  I have a beautiful memory of a glorious sunny day llama trekking on my birthday, at the end of October!  It is very possible for us to continue to have fantastic weather for another 10 weeks.Think about how long 10 weeks feel if you are waiting for something amazing like your summer holiday.  It might as well be years away.   Our perception of time changes with our attitude, but the length of time is still the same.  Yes, the days are getting shorter, but that doesn’t mean we are in winter yet.  Stay in the moment, forget about winter for now and just have fun in the sun.

Make sure you are prepared.
We know winter will come so we can’t just ignore it till we hit rock bottom, so take a few steps so you are well prepared for when the time comes.

*Do you need new bulbs for your light?
Rather than waiting till you need your light get it out and make sure it’s working ok or if the bulbs need replacing.

Do you need to buy a lamp if you don’t already have one?

So many people find light therapy effective.  This means it really is worth a try to see if it can help you too.  I know the lights are expensive but for many they would pay it 3 times over knowing how much of a difference it makes.

Are you taking your vitamins?
When we are feeling well during the summer it is really easy to forget to take your vitamins.  What we forget is that apart from Vitamin D3 none of them are affected by the seasons.  This means that we need to keep taking them all year round.

With D3, if you either use sun block or spend a lot of time indoors during the day you may find that you aren’t getting enough naturally and supplementing needs to be a year round thing.  If in doubt get your levels tested by your GP and amend your dose accordingly.

Knowing our vits help is one thing, but going into winter deficient is not going to help.

Make a diary date to start your light therapy.
Look back to previous years and take note of when you started to feel bad.  Make a note a few weeks before that to start using your light so that you catch yourself before you fall.  It gets you into the habit too.

Did you fall off the CBT wagon?
Many people find CBT and other psychological tools helpful to get them through the winter.  It is said that CBT can be as effective as light therapy.  If you’ve been feeling fine over the summer you may have forgotten to do the work.  Before you start to sink get your books out and refresh your skills.

Start researching new tools before you need them.
There are always new discoveries and more information out there on things you can add to your toolbox.  For me I am going to be looking into whether the treatment for TMS can be used for the depression and anxiety of SAD.  I also want to look again into investing in an ozone generator for my office at work.  I find a new tool gives me more hope for a better winter than the year before.

    In being prepared you can forget about what is coming and live in the moment.  In taking your power back you can go into the darker months with more confidence that you are doing the very best you can.

    Don’t stick your head in the sand, but also don’t let fears of tomorrow ruin today… it’s stunning out there… go enjoy it!

    If your light is a few years old the bulbs might not be at their best.  You can think you are doing everything right when your light is totally letting you down.

    What are your beliefs about the weather?

    Here in the UK there is a fashion of “weather cynicism”.  We are often found joking that is always rains and summer is only different to winter because the rain is warm.  It’s almost gallows humour and we kid ourselves that it helps us deal with yet another dreary day… but does it really help us?

    In the Wellbeing community there is a strong belief in the link between the words we say and how we experience the world around us.  It appears our brain can’t tell the difference between negative statements that we make in jest and real negative experiences.  This means when we joke that it’s always raining our brain takes that on as a truth about the world.  Say it too often and we can find that on those dark, cloudy days where we are feeling low it is hard to think the sun will ever shine again.

    This is a negative mind set we just don’t need.  When we are feeling low it really can help to have faith that the sun will return and we will feel better, but if we continue to joke that it’s always raining, how can we stay positive?

    As a SAD sufferer I notice and remember every sunny day.  I am aware of the summer we had last year and how little it actually rained.  It was so dry my garden was struggling.  And even this winter when much of the country was getting floods, here in the Nene Valley we had very little rain at all.

    Commit to no longer being a weather cynic. Start to remember the sunny days as they come, take photos if you need to, and start the believe that quite often the sun does shine.  And when you do that, you will begin to have faith that you will feel better again.

    Sunbeams to you all

    Blog – Do you battle with winter?

    After a few years of researching and learning about SAD I realised that one of the major factors in how you get through winter is attitude.  Let me explain how….

    Do you fight winter, or do you try to roll with the punches?

    When autumn arrives it is quite easy to start going into battle stations; getting your light box out, making sure you have your supplements stocked and possibly making a doctors appointment to get any meds you might need.  It can easily feel like we are collecting our weapons and heading into war.  But what if we looked at it a different way?

    We could see this as a struggle that we have to get through, or we could accept that this is going to happen and roll with the punches.  Struggle instantly sets up a degree of fear in the mind; we are preparing for it to be horrible and we create negative beliefs about how we are going to feel. This instantly brings us down.  If, instead we decide to stay in the moment and trust that we will do our best and that our tools will help us we can try to stay positive.  This helps us be more upbeat and able to deal with the situations life brings to us.

    Do you try to recreate summer through the winter?

    I am certain that all of us would much rather winter never came.  We could maybe cope with a bit of autumn and some early spring but it would be lovely if the rest of the year was a nice 24ºc and sunny.  We can dream but the sad reality is winter is going to happen whether we like it or not, and we are not going to be able to completely recreate it with our tools.  In accepting that our weather goes through a set of seasons and that they are natural we can shift our expectations about the winter and find we can be much happier.

    In this crazy fast 24/7/52 world we live in we are expected to keep going, keep working, partying, socialising, creating, learning, and being out there living life.  On my page on the causes of SAD I explain that it is natural for winter to bring a time of slowing down to our lives; a time when we gather in and recover from the busy summer. If we can change our expectations about what we are going to do through the winter we can find it much easier to be gentle with ourselves.  That in itself can reduce tiredness, anxiety and depression.  Simply by listening to our bodies and doing what we need to do can instantly make things easier.

    So how do we make these changes?

    Learn to love the slowness that comes with the changing of the seasons.  Do you remember that boxed set you’ve been promising to watch or a book you wanted to read, now is your time.  Always wanted to take up a hobby like crafting or learning a language, here is your opportunity!

    The Dutch have a concept of Hygge that is the feeling you get when you are sat around a fire with friends, warm and cozy.  Develop times when you do this.  If you can’t face friends, create it on your own.  Seek the inner peace that is there if we look for it.  It can bring with it such calmness that you can feel it easing away the anxieties.

    If we go into battle with winter and expect to have the same level of energy as we have in the summer we are going to be disappointed.  This leads to the worsening of almost all of the symptoms you experience.  If you can learn to find good things that bring you a sense of peace, then you will be adding another tool to your toolkit that will help you no end.

    My winters contain hot chocolate, blankets, gaming, boxed sets and usually a home study course of some kind.  I tell my friends they won’t see so much of me and then I enjoy the time I do have with them more.  I am gentler with myself and expect less.  I have found this helps no end.

    Here in the UK the weather is definitely seeming more springlike and we will be changing the clocks next weekend.  Wishing you all sunny days ahead!

    Guest blog – Amie’s journey with CBT

    Amie posted this in the SAD Facebook group  I am a member of.  She has very kindly allowed me to post it as a blog here to help others.

    “Last winter, I got so much better that I thought of donating my entire “light collection.” I account it to the fact that I took an online course in Positive Psychology as well as made some major decisions for my life, and it made a huge difference.

    This year, I started having symptoms again, and was like, “What’s wrong with me???” I headed south for a while, which helped, but is not always a complete solution (be warned lol). So I recently took an online course on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for SAD that mentioned that a person needs to continue to practice the techniques, as humans have a tendency to return to their baseline,  meaning you can get symptomatic again, even if you have studied CBT or similar in the past. It was suggested that in the fall, just as some regularly start an antidepressant around a certain time, take out the CBT tools you found helpful – thought diaries/sheets, pleasant activities schedule – even if you don’t feel like you need them quite yet. It’s easier to get yourself out of a hole you never fell into! Perhaps it’s sort of like a workout routine. If it is not kept up, the mind can get “out of shape” as well haha.

    Maybe even meet with a professional to review the techniques, My insurance isn’t that good – so it’s hard for me to find someone around here, but I decided it’s a help yourself world, so that’s what I’ve done. I feel knowledge gives you power!

    I’ve also read several books that have been helpful. In the past, I thought I was at a loss for information, because there aren’t many doctors around here who know a lot about treating SAD, and beyond Rosenthal’s Winter Blues book, there’s not a lot of other published information (yes ok on the internet, but some of it is questionable or just says the same things as other sites repetitively). However, given the diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder recently changed to Major Depression with Seasonal Onset, I read an article in which one doctor suggested to stop looking at the Seasonal specific part and start looking at it as how can I treat this depression. Therefore I started reading some books on depression and these have helped a lot – because there is a lot of overlap.

    A couple books that stand out are, “The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs“, by Steve Iliardi, and “The Upward Spiral“, by Alex Korb. The former is a simpler read of things to try, while the latter had many helpful things to break a cycle of depression. Korb’s book may be too technical for some – I personally liked the information.

    If it’s hard to focus on books in the midst of SAD, it’s been suggested to do it just before or after winter, where you can focus on the information – similar to learning CBT. I find listening to audio books (especially the first time though) easier than straight reading. Off the top of my head, others I found helpful were: “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” by Dr. David Burns (on CBT), “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies“, by Rhena Branch, “The Mindful Way through Depression,” by Mark Williams. I read a book on EFT/tapping, but the jury is out on that for me.

    The course I took on CBT was through Udemy.com, “Say Goodbye to Seasonal Affective Disorder and Winter Blues”, by Arnie Kozak. He was one of the group of researchers with Kelly Rohan who recently published the results of their study that not only is CBT as effective as light therapy, but people showed less relapse over years 2 and 3 than with light therapy. I also liked how this course specifically targeted CBT for SAD. The course I took on Positive Psychology was through Coursera.com and led by Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a well-known researcher on Positive Psychology at the University of North Carolina. Udemy frequently runs coupons for discounted pricing and Coursera has financial aid that is easily obtained.

    As an aside, the CBT course also pointed out that any time we are compromised – for example sick, injured or extremely stressed, the thought patterns and SAD symptoms can show up even more. This makes sense because while in Phoenix I ran a tough 100K race that beat me up completely, and after that the symptoms came back noticeably. I had also noticed in the past that while injured or sick with the flu, I’d seem to get worse as well.

    Although bright light therapy remains a mainstay for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are other effective techniques that can be used as well, especially when the lights don’t seem to work well or completely, or the duration/timing of usage is impractical for some.

    Just some thoughts – I hope all are doing well!”

    Thanks Amie! x

    Blog – Do you find sunset a difficult time?

    One of my personal struggles is the way sunset makes me feel.  On a bright sunny day I can be absolutely fine and as soon as the sun starts to drop my anxiety levels rise.  In the summer when my base level of emotion is pretty ok this isn’t really an issue, but in the winter that can make low day crippling.  In the summer, by the time the sun is setting I’m home and preparing for bed, in the winter I have to deal with work, face the drive home and maybe even do the groceries.  It can take all my grit and determination to walk into that supermarket sometimes.

    Just recently I spent a weekend at a friends house in Wales.  I left there at 4pm and started my 3 hour journey.  As soon as the sun started to lower in the sky I could feel myself worrying about driving home.  I had to talk myself through that whole journey. Interestingly, once the light levels have transitioned through sunset into full dark I felt so much better and the anxiety drifted away. This confirmed my belief that sunset affects me.

    So, what’s causing it?

    I tried to do some internet research but found that this is only really recognised in dementia and elderly patients but I have found other people, both with SAD and more classic anxiety or depression symptoms, mentioning this with little explanation as to the cause.  There must be a reason so I gave it a ponder.  What I came up with, and this has no scientific background at all, I would suggest it has a connection to our basic survival instinct.

    I like to consider the evolution of the human race when understanding what is going on with my SAD.  Looking back through our past it has only been in the last few hundred years where it has been safe to be outdoors after dark.  For millennia our world has been filled with dangers at night and we probably evolved with a sense of when it was time to head back to the cave for safety.  Of course our lives have changed drastically but the evolution of our brain chemistry is a long way behind.

    So when those of us who are already sensitive to light levels are away from “the cave” it is understandable when the alarm bells go off as light levels drop.  We already feel anxious and unable to deal with what life throws at us, when the innate fear of bears and lions is added to the mix we are likely to reach a high level of anxiety.

    So what do we do?

    I have probably mentioned before that when I am at work I use a small light box all day.  It’s probably no brighter than 2500 lux but it is enough to keep my brain working.  In the past I would obediently turn it off around 3pm aware that any longer and I might disrupt my sleep pattern.

    Back in 2014 I decided to risk poor sleep to see what would happen if I left my light on until I left work at 5pm.  To my amazement and utter joy I found that I not longer experienced the same levels of anxiety.  I could go into the supermarket and get my shopping without gripping the trolley with whitened knuckles.

    It appears to me that in using my light through the sunset period I stave off the effect it has on me and skip straight into feeling better when it is fully dark.  Of course when I am away from my light I still need to be aware of what is going on, but this has been a revolution for me.

    So, if you are one of those that finds your anxiety levels rise as the sun sets tune into your fears and see if it is a desire to hide and get safe that you are feeling.  If this is the case, turn on the lights, as bright as you can find them, and see if that helps.