Like many people in the UK, I suffer the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every winter. When the days start to become dark and the hype and excitement of the holidays are over, my mood takes a noticeable dip.
It’s usually accompanied by dozing in bed longer than usual (hello, snooze button!), becoming more easily irritated by little things, and days where I feel like nothing I do is good enough.
If this sounds like you too, know that you’re not alone. It’s a very common depression. In fact, 3 in 100 people in the UK are affected by SAD every year.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
SAD is caused by a lack of regular sunlight. Without a regular supply of vitamin D, our hypothalamus – the area of the brain responsible for producing serotonin, the happiness chemical – stops working effectively. Lower serotonin levels are what produces the feelings of despair and lethargy so synonymous with SAD.
Why SAD is a Difficult Depression to Treat
Since we have no control over the amount of daylight, it can be really difficult to treat SAD. We’re told to go for walks more regularly during the light hours, eat tons of vitamin-rich fruit and veg, and make sure that we talk about how we’re feeling with people we love and trust.
I’ve tried so many different things to help. From talking therapy to daily walks and Lumie alarm clocks, to regular exercise and nutrient-dense meals.
And while these are all helpful suggestions, when you’re in the thick of it, they feel more like sticking on a plaster rather than an actual remedy for the ache. The problem with these band-aid solutions is that they don’t take into consideration the core issue: your thoughts.
When you’re suffering from depression there’s this constant swarm of negative thoughts that leave you feeling worthless, telling you that what you’re doing isn’t enough or that you’re a horrible person. In our hearts, we know this isn’t true, but it’s so difficult to shut them off completely.
How Baking Can Ease SAD Symptoms
I’m not a therapist, but as someone who has suffered from SAD for her entire adult life, there’s only one thing that’s truly helped me shut off the negative lines of thought for a prolonged period of time and that’s behavioral activation therapy.
Activation therapy is simply doing an activity that requires your brain to think step-by-step, such as baking, cooking, or paint-by-number. As much as we like to think we’re brilliant multi-taskers, our brains actually struggle to focus on more than one activity at a time.
By performing a step-by-step activity, like baking, you force your brain to focus on the task at hand and to be in the moment, redirecting your thoughts from negative to process-based. It takes you out of your head and connects you to your body.
Baking is an extremely mindful activity. It can increase your self-esteem as you practice and become better at it. It can help you connect with other people and express yourself in a creative way. All of these things – self-esteem, connection, expression – are difficult when you’re strapped down with negative thoughts. But through the vehicle of baking they can become a bit easier to manage.
The best bit is that you have a delicious, tangible reward at the end of it, which makes it all that more enticing to start!
Baking regularly has changed my life. It has pulled me out of a long period of depression, consistently keeps my anxiety at manageable levels, gives my self-esteem a boost, and helps me connect with people as someone with an introverted personality.
I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re struggling with SAD and you’ve tried everything else without any results, I would encourage you to give baking regularly a go.
Aside from some burnt cookies, what have you got to lose really?
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