Although the holiday season is a wonderful time of year, a lot of people feel a lot less jolly than expected around this time of year. I know that as soon as the days start getting shorter and I’m walking home in the dark everyday that I’m feeling a lot moodier, unhappier and just not quite myself. This is often an indication of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Fortunately these are mild symptoms and I can function normally in my job and personal life. Unfortunately, 3% of the UK population suffer will full symptoms which affects their everyday lives drastically and affects everyday functions. Whereas 20% of the UK have mild symptoms which often go undiagnosed.
Symptoms of SAD
- A constant low mood
- Sleeping too much and experiencing fatigue
- Gaining weight and food cravings
- Decreased interest in social and everyday activities
What causes the Winter Blues?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD and the Winter Blues often occurs just as we start to run into the beginning of winter. As the days go shorter we often lack the natural sun light we are used to from the Summer months.
This is said to affect three different things in the body. First is the production of melatonin which is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. This production is increased with less sunlight. The second is the production of serotonin lowers. This is the hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep and is also a main hormone that is affected during depression. The last thing is your circadian rhythms or your body clock which also affects your sleeping and eating habits.
How do you beat the winter blues?
One of the big factors to try and beat SAD is to get as much light as you can while you can. Get natural light by trying to fit in morning walks or get out of the office at lunch time before it gets dark. You can also try light therapy*. Often your doctor will let you know if you need one, and there’s different types and brightness levels for them.
Changing up your diet can also help. Although eating a healthy and balanced diet all year round is important, you need to think a bit more about which foods will help increase your mood in winter. Eating more good carbs such as whole fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds etc. will help combat the carb cravings often associated with SAD. Mood boosting foods are also important. Most fish has an abundance of lean proteins, omega 3, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D all of which help boost your mood. Other foods that include these will also help. If you struggle to incorporate some ingredients into your diet then supplements may also help. Both vitamin D and fish oil supplements can help.
Regular exercise, whether it’s a brisk walk or a full gym session will help to reduce symptoms of depression. The endorphin released alongside being outside helps to increase your overall mood as well as positively impact your health. The best time to go for a run, walk or hike would be while it’s still light although you’ll still get some benefits if you only have time in the evenings.
Becoming mindful and meditation can help to lift your mood. Being mindful that you’re feeling moodier and less like yourself means you can immediately take action to make yourself feel better. Meditation itself is said to release serotonin and melatonin which helps boost your mood and are two of the main hormones affected by SAD.
Ensure that self care is a priority. When you’re affected by SAD, it’s often difficult to do normal everyday things such as cooking food, sleeping on time, staying awake in the day etc. Forcing yourself to do these things will help you to not fall into a cycle of poor self care and being depressed.
Another thing is to keep in touch with friends and family. Talking to people and taking part in social activities will help you to not feel so alone. Whether you talk over how you feel or not, being around someone you trust will often boost your mood anyway.
And of course, if you’re feeling really rough, it’s always okay to go to the doctors. They will be able to give you medical advice and prescriptions if needed and will give you a lot better advice than what you can find on the internet.