My Passion is Psychology
With the changing of the season now is the time of year that some people can become aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes called the winter blues. At the end of September we passed the autumn equinox, meaning that the days are once again shorter than the nights and as we head towards winter the weaker sunshine makes it less likely we will get the vitamin D we need.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a not a condition in its own right, but rather is seen as a recurring major depressive episode that occurs seasonally each year.
People affected will usually experience a range of symptoms including:
- Sad/Low Mood
- Lack of Energy
- Tired and Lethargic
- Difficultly Concentrating
- Reduced Activity
- Social Withdrawal
- Craving Carbohydrates
- Weight Gain
Depression of this type can also include thoughts of suicide and it is important if you are having persistent suicidal thoughts to see your GP urgently or call the Samaritans on 116 123 (Free).
People with seasonal affective disorder tend to show a decrease in the neurotransmitter Serotonin as daily sunlight diminishes. They may also have difficulty with overproduction of Melatonin. This hormone is produced by the pineal gland. This gland responds to darkness and the hormone causes sleepiness. As the winter days become darker, Melatonin production increases and in response people feel more sleepy and lethargic.
The combination of decreased Serotonin and increased Melatonin impacts our circadian rhythms – the body’s internal 24-hour clock. These rhythms are supposed to change in response to the light-dark changes that occur throughout the seasons. For people with SAD the circadian signal that indicates a seasonal change in day length has been found to be timed differently, thus making it more difficult them to adjust to the changing season.
Added to this is that we are likely to develop a deficiency in Vitamin D due to the weakening sunlight and that we tend to go out less at this time of year. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity and Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency have been associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms.
Causal links between serotonin, melatonin, circadian rhythms, Vitamin D and SAD have not yet been confirmed, however, associations among these key factors are present and continue to be studied.
Some studies have shown that for some people anti-depressant medication of the SSRI (selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitor) type can be effective. However, a Cochrane review (often considered the gold standard in medical research) found insufficient evidence to support the use of these drugs for SAD and also noted that up to 27% of people treated with these drugs withdrew from studies early due to adverse side effects.
Light Therapy has consistently shown promise in reducing the impact of SAD. “they are best used in the morning and should be a broad-spectrum light that filters out ultraviolet rays. Typical exposure is 20 to 60 minutes of 10,000 lux of cool-white light. This is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting. Some people can experience headaches for the first few days. Light therapy should not be used in conjunction with photosensitising medications e.g. Lithium, Melatonin, Phenothiazine and certain antibiotics.
Vitamin D insufficiency has been shown to be associated with depression. Low levels are usually due to insufficient dietary intake or lifestyle issues, such as little exposure to outdoor sunshine. During the winter months of November to February people living 33 degrees north of the equator are not able to synthesise Vitamin D due to the lack of sunlight. For several years the NHS has recommended people consider a daily Vitamin D supplement during this time of year. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
Counselling approaches can provide help and support to people with SAD. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has the goal of breaking down problems and negative thought patterns by changing the way people think about them. CBT can also help people improve their diet by limiting starches and sugars as well as increasing exercise, managing stress and avoiding social withdrawal. In addition to this various forms of meditation, such as Mindfulness and Yoga, have also been found to be beneficial. Other diet advice includes eating a protein rich diet (vitamin D is found in small amounts in oily fish and eggs), a diet free from processed foods and with complex carbohydrates.
SAD is a disorder precipitated by a lack of needed exposure to sunlight. The main focus of support should be to increase exposure to light, preferably sunlight, along with appropriate counselling, diet and Vitamin D supplement.
Visualisation is an extremely powerful tool that I believe everyone can use with a little practice. We can use the power of visualisation for many things, like building confidence, being more focused, less anxious and much, much, more.
Don’t believe you can visualise? Then try this simple experiment: Close your eyes and picture your front door… Which side is the door handle on? In order to answer that you had to visualise your front door. i.e. draw a picture in your mind.
There is lots of evidence and research that visualisation in sport improves performance. This is because the process of visualisation creates the same neural pathways in the brain as actually doing what is being visualised and the more it is done the stronger the pathway becomes. This means that when a golfer visualises their shot it’s like taking several practice shots – not swings – before taking the actual shot.
As Aristotle wrote: “We are what we repeatedly do”. A principle that Richard Branson has incorporated into his daily routine. Which you can read about here.
You can also use this technique to develop your confidence and self-belief. Psychologists refer to this as Self-efficacy i.e. an individual’s belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. Many things in life reduce our self-efficacy and we judge things as being too hard to attempt, but when we visualise we can grow our confidence and we can begin to see a positive outcome.
If, for example we want to develop of feelings of self worth, then we can visualise what that would like in terms of the things we would be doing. So we can use visualisation to create a picture of what the high self-worth version of ourselves would say or do in any given situation. By doing this repeated we create the person we want to be and start to act in that way naturally.
Also, if we visualise ourselves as being healthy we are more likely to exercise and make better food choices.
If you want to understand how visualisation can help you why not get in touch?
At this time of year lots of people try a new diet. In part this can be seen from the number of diet related TV programs being shown at the moment.
The gyms are stuffed full of people who have over indulged during the festive season and now feel a bit guilty about it.
Ultimately we all know that in order to lose weight and get fitter we need to eat less and move more and practically every flavour of diet will provide this in one form or another. The following advice comes from Mindfulness principles and could help you stay on track with your diet. Eating mindfully means you will get more taste from your food and feel fuller sooner and for longer. The ideas are simple, but highly effective.
- Eat without distractions! This means no TV! Or Screens of any type! Make eating a conscious exercise. Whenever possible sit at a table. You can eat with other people – you might even find yourself having a conversation! But no other distractions, especially electronic ones. The idea is to be able to focus on your food and really taste it.
- Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls (our whatever you are eating). This habit slows the pace of your eating and helps you to taste what you are eating and also to notice when you have had enough. All too often we polish off a huge plate of food and then 10 minutes later realise we are stuffed. This is because it takes time for the signal to go from our stomach to our brain to tell us we are full. Putting our cutlery down helps us notice we are full. And speaking of plates…
- Use a side plate for you main course. This allows us to see everything we are eating. Plates have become larger and larger – so it’s time to reset our perception of what a plateful is. The easy way to do that is to use a side plate – you can always have seconds if you are really full.
- Don’t be afraid not to clear your plate. If you are eating mindfully then you are paying attention to every mouthful and more likely to feel full sooner. I don’t want to encourage you to be wasteful – but if you are full – Stop Eating! And at your next meal make your portion slightly smaller (and see 3 above).
Hopefully these simple steps will help you stick to and get the most from your diet.
If you’d like any further information please Get In Touch!
If you like to learn more about mindfulness I would start here:
- Do something pleasurable every day.
- Do something that gives a sense of accomplishment every day.
Life for many people is very busy, rushing from one crisis to another. This can allow common mental health issues like depression and anxiety to creep up on us without us noticing.
Following these tips as much as possible with help to improve general well-being leading to improved mental and physical health.
- Daily Pleasurable Activity. This can be something as simple as making sure to get your caramel latte and take the time to drink it or walking the dog. Anything from 10 to 30 minutes is all it takes. Don’t think of it as a chore or being selfish – it’s an investment in yourself that will make you more productive.
- Daily Mastery Task. Again, this doesn’t need to be anything huge and can be a relatively simple task. For some people it could just be making your bed, for others it could be tackling that drawer (or garage) you put things in that you don’t know where else to put.
- Exercise. The recommendation is we all get 30 minutes of exercise every day. This might mean going to the gym, but it could as easily mean going for a walk round the block at lunchtime. Parking your car as far from the door of the supermarket or just making sure you stand up and walk about for 5 minutes every hour.
- Socialise. This is, perhaps, the most important point. Often the first thing we stop doing is socialising. We feel we are too busy or just don’t feel like it. We can also start to feel that other people aren’t interested in us; that we are being a pain to them. This is not the case, just think how you would feel if one of your friends told you that? Make a point of seeing people regularly outside of work. If it helps join a club or take an evening class. You don’t have to be the life and soul of the party. Sometimes this can be the hardest to think about and take action, but social contact will have a very positive effect on your well-being.
Depression is among the most common mental health problem that people encounter and it is most common in middle age.
It is characterised by a low mood that lasts for 2 or more weeks. A loss of interest in activates, difficultly concentrating and disturbed sleep, especially early waking and not being able to get back to sleep.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a solution-focused therapy that has been shown to be highly effective in helping people with depression.
Working with your CBT therapist you will undertake exercises to help you understand more about your thinking and develop methods together to help you overcome it as quickly as possible.
However, if you are having serious, persistent, thoughts about suicide please seek immediate medical help from your general practitioner, Accident and Emergency department of call the Samaritans on 116 123
For more information please contact me
At this time of year we often review and set new goals for the year ahead. Most don’t last long.
Here are some tips on effective goal setting to maximise your chances of sticking with them and achieving the end results you are looking for.
Start with the Why – Why are you setting this goal? For yourself? For someone else? Because you think you should?
Goals that come from our values are much more likely to be achieved. What within your personal values makes you want to set this goal?
Goals should also have an emotional drive and setting goals without an emotional reason won’t work!
Goals should be moderate in difficulty. They should be challenging, but realistic.
Relative goals are good, but absolute goals are better. A clearly defined objective is more motivating than a relative goal. Compare the goal of wining the club championship, versus improving your handicap by 1 or 2 strokes. Or I will achieve X pounds in weight as opposed to I’m going to eat more healthily.
Big goals are fine, but you need to break them down into smaller goals and ultimately daily tasks that you can schedule.
Tell people what you are going to do and write it down!
SMART goals have good support in the research literature and can be very useful. SMART has a few variations but in generally they are:
Find a training partner or coach! It WILL help.
Take the following example: You want to get healthy in your 40’s (or 50’s). You want to lose weight and get in shape. (too vague).
What are your values that bring you to setting the goal of Getting in Shape? Family? Missing out on activities?
Don’t do it for them – Do it for you!
What does a picture of healthy look like?
What do you see yourself doing that you aren’t doing now?
Outcome Goal (based on values) – Want to do more with family.
Performance Goal – Walk X Miles in Y minutes.
Absolute Goal – Weigh X Pounds/Kgs
How are you going to hit the performance and absolute goals? Schedule daily activities (to the minute)!
Set short term goals on the way to main goals.
Evaluate progress and modify as you progress.
Specific daily goals should link to weekly and monthly progress goals.
Set positive goals based on what you will do, not what you won’t do!
“I will make healthy eating choices” is better than “I won’t eat junk”.
Reflect on your values often!
While many people look forward to the holiday season there are a significant number of people that are filled with a sense of dread as it approaches.
All that enforced socialising. Office parties, for some, are the most daunting experience of the year. Social Anxiety can really come to a head at this time of year for many people.
Some tips for helping overcome (or least control) Social Anxiety are:
Plan Ahead. Don’t over book yourself. Limit yourself to one or two events a week. Don’t be afraid to turn down additional invitations. Everyone knows there is a lot on at this time of year. You don’t need to make excuses.
Don’t over do it. With food or alcohol. Pace yourself with both and you are less likely to make a social faux pas.
Be Prepared. As every Boy Scout would say. Have a look at some current news events or sports stories and try to remember 3 things as conversation starters, though it might be best to avoid anything too controversial. Remember to ask open questions to give other people the chance to talk about their favourite subject – themselves!
Keep Calm. If you start to feel your anxiety growing, excuse yourself to the bathroom and go there or outside and spend a few moments taking some slow, deep, breaths. Allow yourself the space to cool down. No one will notice – keep in mind that you are much more aware of your anxiety than anyone else!
Rest. Make sure you get enough sleep. Have a nap before going back out in the evening if needed.
Mindfulness. 10 minutes a day of mindfulness practice can make a huge difference.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is extremely effective in helping you to help yourself with all types of anxiety. It can help you understand your triggers and what the beliefs are that you hold and then helps you look at them differently to overcome your anxiety.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows more people than ever are quitting and fewer are starting!
Since 2010 the smoking rate has fallen 7% to 17.7% in Scotland, though this is still above the UK average of 15.8%.
In the UK there are still approximately 7 Million Smokers.
As an ex-smoker myself I understand how difficult it is to quit. I am a firm believer in the benefits of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), but also believe Hypnotherapy can help a great many people to get over the initial hurdle by helping to visualise themselves as a non-smoker.
To help do my part I have decided to reduce the cost of Smoking Cessation Hypnotherapy to £75 per session. I am also offering free Smoking Cessation to ALL students for a limited time. Please contact me for details.
Please visit gordoncharlton.com/smoking for more information.
Hello from Aberdeen OP is the first in a series of short videos I am producing on a wide range of topics, including Depression, Anxiety (OCD, Social Phobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy.
In the main I use a solution focused therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT for short, which has been shown to be highly effective in helping people to understand their problems and to look at them in a new, more positive way. Typically, this takes between 4 and 7 sessions.
CBT is a solution focused therapy that is evidence based, as is everything I do within my practice.
I have a dedicated office in the centre of Aberdeen, with easy on street parking.
Initial appointments are free.
If you feel you might have an issue we can we can work on, then please get in touch to make an appointment
For more information or to make an appointment please contact me