As the days grow shorter and the weather turns colder, many people in the UK are experiencing a decrease in energy and mood. This phenomenon, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects approximately two million individuals. SAD, often referred to as “winter depression,” is more prevalent during the winter months due to the amplified effects of the weather. The main symptoms of SAD mirror those of depression, including low mood, low energy, and increased cravings for high carbohydrate foods, particularly chocolate.
According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists, SAD is more common in women, with a ratio of about three women to every man. In severe cases, antidepressants may be prescribed by a GP. One woman, Elaine Bowen, has struggled with SAD for most of her life and relied on medication for 30 years to alleviate her symptoms. However, Elaine discovered the benefits of cold water swimming and noticed a significant improvement in her mental health. She gradually weaned herself off medication and found solace in the practice.
Leighton Lee, a 51-year-old man, also found relief from SAD through cold water swimming. Though he found it difficult to put into words, he experienced a significant increase in his mental well-being after each session.
Intrigued by the positive impact of cold water dipping, the author decided to try it themselves. With guidance from Elaine, Leighton, and other experienced swimmers, they entered the cold water slowly and used breathing techniques to cope with the temperature. The author discovered that the combination of the water and the company of the group lifted their spirits.
While cold water swimming has shown promise in alleviating SAD symptoms, there are other treatments available as well. Talking therapies and light boxes are commonly used to manage the condition. Dr. Maria Atkins of the Royal College of Psychiatrists explained that the exact reasons behind SAD are not entirely understood but are believed to be related to chemicals in the brain. Lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, may also be beneficial in managing SAD symptoms. Dr. Atkins emphasized the importance of seeking help if persistent low mood and other symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
For those who dread the impending shorter, darker days of winter, it is reassuring to know that there are multiple avenues for support and treatment. SAD does not have to be faced alone, and it is essential to inform oneself about the condition and reach out for assistance when needed.