The Downside of the Clock Change from Daylight Savings

Well, here it is. The day the clocks change and we transition from daylight savings to standard time in the UK. It is only a one-hour shift in time, so it should only be a minor blip for us to adjust to – or so one would think. The reality is, however, the change can have a significant negative impact on our mental wellbeing.

The clock change moves one hour of daylight from the late afternoon period to the early morning period. This means it will lighter in the mornings for a while until we reach the dead of winter. Most people won’t get the opportunity to be exposed to that morning light, though, because we are still sleeping or are indoors getting ready for school and work etc., and won’t get any benefit from the time shift.

The impact of this sudden one-hour reduction in light exposure causes our system to increase the amount of melatonin it produces earlier in the day. This can result in sluggishness and sleepiness happening every day from late afternoon onwards. Because it happens suddenly, it can create a shock to the system for some people and their brains don’t respond well to the change. This change can ironically cause insomnia, but in most cases, can cause excessive daytime sleepiness. For countries higher up in the Northern Hemisphere, such as the UK, this can be a serious problem.

Prolonged daytime sleepiness can have a negative impact on our mood. For people who already have a mood disorder such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, there is a much greater risk of a sudden depressive episode to occur. Even without a mood disorder, the negative impact on mood caused by this change, if not improved, can lead to an episode of depression developing.

It is thought that the excessive daytime sleepiness dampens motivation, meaning the sufferer is less likely to exercise, eat well or socialise in the dark evenings. This too can have a negative impact on mood which can lead to an episode of depression in some people.

Although people suffer from depression at any time of the year, including the summer months, depression can be linked to lack of sunlight in the winter. Scientists cannot give us a definitive reason for this, but the result of many studies show that exposure to daytime light can improve mood and lessen the depressive symptoms. This type of depressive episode is known as ‘winter depression,’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

So, the clock change might give us an extra hour in bed, but for some people, it can cause a sudden depressive episode to occur, and for others, it can signal that their annual winter depression is on its way.

The doctor’s recommendations to combat this is easier said than done for many, and that is to get out in the daytime and get exposure to as much sunlight as possible. This is thought to stave off the production of melatonin for longer and improve excessive daytime sleepiness. Other recommendations include daily exercise and eating well-balanced meals. Go easy on the carbs! Another recommendation is to get up and go to bed at the same time, 7 days a week. This helps reset the body clock and produce hormones that will lessen daytime sleepiness. The recommendations are not particularly easy to do for many of us, which might explain why winter depressive episodes are high.

Although not linked to the clock change, another recommendation is to take vitamin D supplements, as a low level in the blood stream is also known to cause depression. Your doctor can assess whether your summer lifestyle meant you have not stored enough vitamin D for the winter period and will recommend if a supplement is needed.

So, when you change your clocks tonight, consider all the things you can do to maintain your mental wellbeing and stave off an episode of winter depression.

World Mental Health Awareness Day

It’s a day that is observed around the world each year because, frankly, our mental health is as important to our survival as physical health is. It’s not just to make the world aware of those of us struggling with a mental illness; it’s about everybody. It’s about being mindful of the fact that we need to look after our mental health.

We all have a physical state, a mental state, and an emotional state and all of these need to be looked after, or poor health and illness can occur. It is pretty obvious if we don’t look after our physical health, we become unwell. The same principle applies to our mental health; if we don’t look after it, we become unwell.

One of the aims of World Mental Health Awareness day is for people like me to start a discussion about mental health to help others become aware that everyone has ‘a mental health’ that needs to be looked after, no matter its current state.

It is all too easy to hear the term ‘mental health’ being discussed and automatically think it is only referring to people with problems or illness. “She has mental health problems,” “he has a mental health illness” etc., but nothing could be further from the truth! We need to compare the phrase ‘mental health’ with ‘physical health’ to get a better idea. We can be in great shape physically and also mentally. We can be in poor physical health and likewise poor mental health. It is a state of being on a sliding scale. Both physical and mental states need to be worked at and nurtured to keep them in a healthy position on that sliding scale.

So, World Mental Health Awareness Day is about helping you become aware that your own personal mental health is on a sliding scale and needs to be looked after just as much as your physical health. My mental health is in great shape at the moment, which is fantastic. Even though I live with a mental illness that is for life, I am still on the same sliding scale as you so I can go through periods of poor mental health and great mental health.

We all know the multitude of things that can be done to maintain our physical health, but do we know the things that need to be done to maintain a good state of mental health? Searching the internet will produce list upon list of ‘tips for good mental health,’ some good and some debatable. My personal advice is, the number one thing you can do to look after your mental health – is to look after your physical health! When things go wrong with our physical health, often, our mental wellbeing can be affected too. Our physical and mental health are twins joined at the hip. One cannot go without the other and in most cases, what affects one, affects the other and vice versa.

From my personal experience, some basic things that can be done to maintain and improve mental health are:

1. Sleep well. Treat sleep as the most important part of your day and don’t skimp on sleep – you need it more than you realise! Living with sleep deprivation can go unnoticed initially, but it will affect your physical health, mental health, emotional health, concentration and decision-making skills. If you think you are great now – think how truly wonderful you could be if you get your full quota of sleep every single night!

2. Eat well. Unfortunately, that means eating healthy foods, not junk! Like it or not, and I don’t, we do need to eat a well-balanced diet to stay physically and mentally healthy. Even small changes can make a difference. The key to making these changes, though, is to know what to eat, and I know first hand, that can be a minefield. But, it is one aspect of things we must do to ensure good all round health.

3. Exercise. Yes, that old chestnut! Unfortunately, it is true. Exercise is important for both our mental and physical health. There is a recommendation that doing about 10,000 steps a day is the right amount of daily exercise for us. That is around 5 miles. To some people it’s just a ‘stroll in the park,’ to others, like me, that’s half way up Mount Everest! A sedentary lifestyle is known to cause poor physical health and shorten lifespan. Exercise is also known to lift spirits, improve mood and mental wellbeing, so it is worth getting those steps in!

4. Get Help. We all need a helping hand occasionally, and it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. The times when we could be asking for help, are those where issues are causing excessive stress or anxiety. Stress is a great thing. Stress is positive, stress is a motivator, stress wins competitions, but stress also kills. If a life or work situation is causing excessive, prolonged stress, it is time to ask for help before something breaks – and it will. Remember – stress kills.

That’s pretty much all I would recommend because long lists are just unachievable. This list alone is challenging because it goes against the lifestyle many of us are currently living. That is why there is currently a world mental health epidemic. The epidemic is set to get worse because of the overly busy, sleepless, stressful, often unhealthy lifestyles that are affecting billions of people all across the planet.

So, the next time you hear the phrase ‘mental health’ it’s not just about problems and illness, it is about looking after ourselves and maintaining a good, healthy place on that sliding scale to prevent problems and illness from occurring!