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  • Writer's pictureDee Crute

SAD, Mental Health, Neurodiversity and Hygge:

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

How gloomy weather affects us, and what to do about it?


Tree against dramatic sky
South Downs Way by Dee Crute

Finally, the days are longer, yet it is still gloomy and wet outside, and you don't feel like... like doing anything, really.
Sounds familiar?


Have you heard about SAD - this ironic acronym stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression. Yes, depression can be a sophisticated beast with many names.


But let's not get intimidated by it - we will dissect it to understand and tackle it with... well, you will see below!


Mug with tea, dandelion ouch and rainy window
At Hector's Shed by Dee Crute
Let's start with SAD.

It is a "seasonal" depression caused by not enough sunlight.


I will take my liberties to be an opinionated smart-ass here and use my physiology background.


Any animal's brain needs sunlight.

Dee, well done, smartass you are!


Whilst in academia, I was assisting in researching how many lumens (light measurement) are needed for ewes to ovulate and get pregnant. Interestingly, women are similarly affected by this.

But light affects not only reproduction but also your sleep and energy levels through similar hormonal pathways.





So what happens if there is not enough light?

The whole natural world goes into slumber during winter months - some hibernate, others slow down.


But wait - aren't humans part of the natural world?

Yes, we are. But with technology and constantly rushing society - no one would dream of taking it easy.


So we push ourselves, despite our brains producing less melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone) and serotonin (happy molecule). Result - our sleep patterns are out of whack, and we feel depressed. Not sad, depressed. Big difference.


bramble and trees against cloudy sky
Devil's Dyke, Sussex by Dee Crute
SAD & Neurodiversity

Let's add neurodiversity into the equation. Scientists found that depression, SAD included, often goes hand in hand with neurodiversity - they call it comorbidity.


As you may expect, we, neurodiverse folk, feel stronger and struggle with identifying, understanding and managing our feelings - think emotional dysregulation and alexithymia.

Plus, we rarely have access to adequate support - most NHS (England and Wales health system) professionals are not sufficiently trained in neurodiversity. Moreover, our mental health services are not tailored to neurodivergent folks suffering from depression or anxiety.


And yet, research has found that apart from the 'regular' SAD symptoms, we won an additional premium package:

  • More frequent meltdowns and shutdowns,

  • more socially withdrawn (yes, more than usual),

  • and an increased risk of self-harm and suicidal ideation.

That does not sound good. What shall we do?

If you know me well, you know what I will say.


Nature.


Come on, Dee - not sure whether watching bugs, plants, and birds can help here too?


Perhaps not watching, but learning from nature is the key.


Accepting the fact that we are part of it and just embracing it.

Slow down.

Recognising how or what you feel is hard, so embracing it might be tricky.


Maybe we don't need to label our emotions when we feel like this already.

It would take far too much energy to analyse it and find an appropriate strategy.


Perhaps just calling it 'meh' or 'bleh' is enough?

Teapot, typerwriter, books and knitting yarn on the table
Cosy Corner by Dee Crute

In the previous article, I mentioned planning for known triggers.


If the weather is one of them, having a visual aid with a strategy can make a difference.


Tip: Store your aids and strategies in the same place. For ADHD-ers, preferably somewhere in sight (you know, out of sight, out of mind!).


Why?

Getting back to nature - winter, rainy, and gloomy weather are for slowing down, recovery and preparation for busy times ahead.


Your body is already doing it anyway, just against your wishes. Surely you know the stages of high productivity followed by depressive episodes?


Is this the way our brains recover after hypertime?


I shall leave the question of embracing or managing this trait for another time. Still, the takeaway is that slowing down is not unnatural.


It is necessary - despite the pressure of being productive. If you get unwell, you won't do anything anyway.



Hygge definition against landscape
Strategy

Here is how I tackle my SAD:

With Hygge.


WHAT IS HYGGE

I will cite Meik Wiking's book title, "The Danish way to live well".


Why Danish?

Think, long winter, even longer nights, lots of snow and rain. And yet, Denmark is deemed the happiest country.

In his book, Meik explains Hygges is ingrained in his people's hearts- it is a way to survive six months of darkness in cosiness.






Hygge Ideas against landscape

Examples of Hygge:

  • Wrapping up in a cosy or weighted blanket

  • Comfy socks and clothing

  • Brewing a cuppa or hot chocolate

  • Hiding your phone (constant scrolling is not hygge she says and scrolls...)

  • Sitting next to the open fireplace

  • Lighting candles

  • Making a list of things you are grateful for

  • Engaging in your special interest

  • Watching soothing films or programme

  • Playing your favourite music, radio, or audiobook.

  • Putting wellies on and going for a nature walk or jumping into puddles and then taking a hot shower and getting a hot brew

  • Lighting dimmed and warm lights - or fairy lights.

  • Petting animal - dog, cat or horse, anything (maybe don't pet tarantulas, but just watching my spiders helps me relax)

  • Being outdoor

  • Going to quaint tea rooms or Caffe

  • Listening to rain fall

  • Breathing the cold air or smelling the petrichor.


Scones and Tea set on table
Tea Rooms by Dee Crute

Thinking ahead, you can create a hygge box or cosy nook to store candles, blankets, cushions, a beloved book or DVD, and sensory toys.


Does it have to be hygge?

Of course not. Call it whatever you want.


I like cottage-core and hobbit-core (obviously - yes, you guessed Tolkien is my special interest).


It does not matter what you do - what matters is that you rest and make yourself comfortable.


Don't fight your feelings. Let yourself slow down and take care of your needs.


It's not easy; I grant you. It took me years to come to terms with the need for pacing and overcoming typical ADHD guilt.

But if you meltdown or fall into a depressive episode, you won't be able to do anything, making you feel even worse and like a failure or letting people down.


Sounds familiar?


Let us then break this vicious circle and take care of our needs.

Self-care is not selfishness - to the contrary - you cannot help nor support your loved ones if you have nothing left to give.


If you have any questions - pop them down in the comments or tag me on Twitter.


At some point, I am going to create an online support group where we can virtually meet up, discuss and help each other.



Lots of love!

Dee



 

References:


Amons PJ, Kooij JJ, Haffmans PM, Hoffman TO, Hoencamp E. Seasonality of mood disorders in adults with lifetime attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). J Affect Disord. 2006 Apr;91(2-3):251-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2005.11.017. Epub 2006 Feb 2. PMID: 16458365.



Editors, A.D.D. (2022) Seasonal affective disorder and the ADHD brain, ADHD Adults Health & Nutrition. ADDitude. Available at: https://www.additudemag.com/seasonal-affective-disorder-adhd-comorbid-depression/ (Accessed: March 26, 2023).



Danilenko KV, Sergeeva OY. Immediate effect of blue-enhanced light on reproductive hormones in women. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2015;36(1):84-90. PMID: 25789589.



Depression (2021) Advice-and-guidance. National Autistic Society. Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/mental-health/depression#:~:text=Research%20suggests%20autistic%20people%20may,support%2C%20you%20can%20feel%20better. (Accessed: March 26, 2023).



J.N. Stellflug, J.A. Fitzgerald, C.F. Parker,

Effect of melatonin and extended light on reproductive performance of fall-born Polypay ewe lambs and ewes during spring breeding, Theriogenology, Volume 32, Issue 6, 1989, Pages 995-1006, ISSN 0093-691X, https://doi.org/10.1016/0093-691X(89)90509-8.



(2023) Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). NHS. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mental-health/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad#:~:text=Treatment-,Introduction,lack%20of%20interest%20in%20life. (Accessed: March 26, 2023).




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