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Do you feel SAD? Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Last week marked my 4th year of being here in the UK! Time just flew so quickly. I still remember arriving from the London Heathrow airport with my batch mates. All of us were so excited for our new life. The first thing that welcomed us was the gush of wind! It was freezing cold! It was a frigid November morning. I did not expect to see the sky was so grey. Days were short and nights were long. During my first few months, I had so many things on my mind and i was very busy— my new accommodation, OSCE, my family.

But as time pass by and I was now working regularly, I started to feel down and was missing home. I felt everyday was bed weather, I go to work when it's still dark in the morning and when I go home, it's like time stood still as darkness is still all I see! My bed became my solace and even after having too much sleep, I still felt drained during the day. During my days off, I had no energy to socialise and would rather be sleeping or binging on K-drama series whilst eating rice meals, followed by crisps (aka chips) and ice cream. I felt I was homesick. After a consultation with my GP she suggested that I may also have SAD. SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Literally, I was sad.

According to the NHS (1), Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Most are experiencing this during winter where days are short and nights are longer. Though there are some who also experience this during summer. They also said that whilst the exact cause is still not fully understood, it may be linked to the decreased exposure to sunlight which affects the production of melatonin and serotonin and causes disruption of the body clock. Coming from the Philippines where sunlight is literally overflowing, these grey weather was totally new to me. I was scared at first but after much reading and watching videos about this disorder, I learned that SAD is common. Migrants like me can experience both homesickness and SAD at the same time, which can be really challenging. However it can be temporary and is definitely manageable.

I spoke with colleagues and health professionals, some are also migrants, who have experienced SAD. They gave me very good insights and guided me on how to manage both homesickness and SAD.

Let me share with you a few of their tips.

  • It's ok not to be ok. Acknowledge your feelings. To be strong you have to appreciate your weakness, limitations and shortcomings. If you are sad, don't worry about it. It happens to everyone. Acknowledging your feelings can also mean you can prepare for what's coming ahead. If you know, you're likely to feel SAD during autumn or winter, you can plan ahead and do things that can manage these hopefully temporary sadness.

"I am not one to show my feelings. I am very private and reserved. But I always looked at myself as independent. I did not accept that I was feeling down just because of the weather, that was a constant struggle. Then I realised that when I acknowledged my feelings and accepted that this things happen… I slowly found that I could manage my feelings better. More so, since I knew that I can feel sad during the season changes, I can prepare ahead." - Anna

  • Go outside, get some natural light and fresh air. According to Mind (2), it is beneficial to make the most out of natural light. They have also explained the effects of light and how it affects our well being. According to them, light helps trigger the part of the brain that controls sleep, appetite, sex, temperature and activity. If there is not enough light, functions can slow and eventually stop.

" I originally came from Palawan. Going outside during autumn and winter was extra challenging for me because the sun comes out rarely. And so every time it pops out, I try to go out. I feel better every time when I'm out and about when the sun is out even though it might be cold!"- Lucy

  • Exercise. Having some form of regular exercise will not only make you stronger and healthier, it also aids in the release of endorphins, which can improves one's general mood.

"Running has helped me cope the cold and dark days. The sweats are all worth it.

I could feel my happy hormones every time I run." - Sara

  • Find a hobby. Learning new things keeps your mind busy.

"During the onset of the pandemic, I can say that I was at my worst. I had to adjust with the cold, dark weather and limit my interaction with my family and friends. I decided to find a mindful hobby that can distract me from loneliness. I started doing yoga and joined a number of online yoga classes. It was a good way to distress for me. Namaste." - Maria

  • Indulge on things that make you happy. Self-care is important. If you feel down, simply indulge on things that make you feel loved & happy whether it's having a massage, watching your favourite film or talking to your favourite people. Don't feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Your mental well-being is important.

"Learning from previous experiences, I now have a "happy box". My "happy box " would have things that make me feel better- photos of my kids, aromatherapy candles and a bottle of wine. During seasonal changes, I would once in awhile pamper myself by using this box or just simply listening to my favourite Beatles songs whilst having a bath."

  • Network. Make friends. Find a community. Although its easier to just isolate/hibernate, this may not be beneficial in the long run. Joining communities or clubs or simply surrounding yourself with people can help. Simply knowing that you are not alone can make a big difference!

"Being in a different country, I found it difficult to adjust. On my 2nd year, I felt depressed and felt isolated. I missed my wife who was still in the Philippines that time. I decided to join a basketball club in our local sports centre. I gained friends through the club and felt less isolated. I enjoyed sharing a sport with my new found friends."- Mark

  • Find someone to talk to. Simply letting out your feelings can help your mental well being. Talk to others- whether it be your family and friends.

"During my first few years here in the UK, I was suffering in silence. I felt sad, homesick and isolated but I did not tell any of my co-workers about it. Part of me was embarrassed to admit those feelings. Good thing, i met someone who then became a good friend. I learned she too was feeling the same. She too had the same struggles. I was not alone! I had to admit to her that I too am on the same boat. When finally I let it out, i felt relieved and comforted. - Sara

  • Practice mindful eating. One of key symptoms of SAD is craving for carbohydrates. According to Mind, good food can help improve one’s mood. Eating a well balanced meal and not skipping meals can help limit the cravings.

" When I was feeling down, I felt the urge to eat more particularly rice. But instead of feeling good about myself, I found myself still craving for more food. I hated myself for it. I had to start being mindful in what I eat, how I eat and when I eat."- George

  • Be Brave and Ask Help. Seeking professional help for mental health is not so popular amongst us Filipinos. It might be the fear of being judged or we are just not used to such a setup. However working in the healthcare industry, we nurses also need some one to help us too. We must not fear judgement or any misconception about our own wellness because we as nurses must be fighting fit in order for us to look after our own patients well.

"I have to admit I had occassions of extreme sadness. I thought I can just brush it off but it's been months already and nothing has changed. I always heard about people going to gp to consult about their mental health. But i was too embarrassed to admit and share my feelings until one day I took the courage to schedule an appointment and good thing I did! I did not know you can get so much help. If you feel you are down and you have these symptoms, be brave and ask help. You can consult your GP or go to charities that provide mental well being support."

Here are some of the charities and how to contact them:

Call 116123

MIND Call 0300 123 3393

Call 0800 58 58 58

Kanlungan - They also provide psychosocial support and befriending calls for Filipino migrants who are experiencing distress such as anxiety, loneliness, isolation, and grief.

Being a Nurse in a foreign country is never easy. The environment and weather can contribute to our mental well being. Seasonal Affect Disorder may not be commonly talked about in Filipino Communities but I believe it affects many of us. Just don't forget that when you are home sick and sad, there is more than one way to get you back on track.


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