Beating the Winter Blues
If you notice yourself getting down when temperatures start to drop, you could suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It’s more than just feeling a bit gloomy – SAD is a recognised condition with millions of people experiencing symptoms at winter time. Thankfully, there are some easy steps you can take to stop the change in season from affecting your mood.
SAD symptoms commonly mimic symptoms of depression. Feelings of hopelessness, a lack of energy, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and a change in activity levels or making the time and effort to do the things you usually enjoy are all signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, what might make it SAD is the timing – Especially if symptoms occur during the winter months, when the days and nights are cold, there is a lack of sunshine and warmth, and days are spent inside out of the elements.
According to Beyond Blue, sunlight affects our hormones, but some people are more susceptible than others. Lack of sunlight can mean our bodies produce less melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time for sleep. Less sun could also mean less serotonin, a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep. Finally, sunlight affects our body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – so lower sunlight levels during the winter can throw off your body clock.
SAD Treatments and Tips
Follow the Light
Researchers have demonstrated a clear link between reduced light exposure and a drop in mental health for many people during the winter months. As the days get shorter but work hours remain the same, it can be hard for people to get enough natural light into their day. This is turn affects mood, sleep habits and can have other side effects like poor vitamin D levels.
If SAD is getting you down, you might have to think of creative ways to get more light into your day. If you can choose to sit next to a window at work, that could help you get that light ix throughout the day. Spending your lunch hour outside whenever possible is another great way to get some light. For those who can’t make it outside, light boxes can help. Setting up a bright station and spending time there daily can help life your mood.
SAD can leave you feeling lethargic and unmotivated, but try to push through and get some movement into your day. Exercise is generally recommended to help combat depression, but has some benefits that specifically relate to SAD. If your exercise takes place outside or in front of a light box it can help you get some extra light into your day, and it can work to reduce the effects of the carbohydrates often craved by people experiencing SAD. Often the cold is a reason for people to stay inside, but some light exercise can have you warm again in no time. It doesn’t have to be long or strenuous – a walk outside during your lunch break might be enough to help you feel better.
Watch Your Food
Craving carbohydrate-rich food is a recognised symptom of SAD, and it can lead to a downwards shift in your mood, not to mention the physical effects and potential weight gain. If you’re tempted to fill your plate with comforting carbs, try to look for other solutions. Protein-rich meals will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Try swapping an omelette instead of cereal, and a chicken salad instead of a chicken sandwich. Fruit can help meet your cravings for sweet, but are also full of fibre and nutrients.
How you sleep has a massive effect on your mood, and SAD can send your sleep patterns into a downwards spiral. Napping through the day, feeling lethargic and missing the usual light cues that help your brain wake up can disturb your sleep patterns. Try to help your body’s natural processes along. When you wake up, aim for bright lights and lots of activity. Instead of letting the lethargy glue you to the couch, try to fight it with activity. Then when sleep time comes around, low lights (especially minimising bright screens at least an hour before bed), and a warm, comfortable environment can help you drift off and sleep soundly.
If you are finding symptoms hard to shake off, if SAD is significantly affecting your life or if making basic changes doesn’t seem to be having an effect, it’s a good idea to discuss your symptoms with your GP. For most people, however, it won’t take much to boost your mood. You don’t have to succumb to the winter blues – a few basic changes should have you back to normal in no time.