The Winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short) is a yearly depression that is triggered by the shorter days of Autumn and Winter and usually lasts until Spring. Experts say that SAD is caused by shorter, darker, colder days which lead to sugar, cravings, fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in usual activities and sleep problems.
According to my pharmacist, 90% of Brits are vitamin D deficient by mid November which contributes hugely to SAD. Vitamin D is a vitamin that is naturally created by your body when you expose your skin to the sun so it’s little wonder that by November when the nights are drawing in earlier that we feel lackluster and grumpy. Fast forward to January, the darkest month by far and the SAD we feel can cause us to feel critically low. You may feel that it is hopeless and that you are destined to suffer yearly but there are things you can do to ease the symptoms and help you to lead a more normal life during the winter.
1. First thing’s first, start taking a vitamin D supplement. From October to February I double my daily dose of vitamin D which I find really helps to lift my mood. Last year, the SAD was the worst it has ever been and I broke down crying in a group setting. My pharmacist suggested a good course of vitamins and I started taking the following supplements on a daily basis:
- Gentle iron – helps with tiredness and breathlessness
- Vitamin C & zinc – helps the immune system and zinc reduced the duration of illness
- Vitamin B complex – helps the central nervous system
- Omega 3,6,9 – help reduce depression, help the central nervous system
- Co enzyme Q10- fights ageing, keeps the heart healthy and increases energy
- Vitamin D – helps reduce depression, helps reduce the chances of getting osteoporosis and supports the immune system
The most important of these is definitely vitamin D.
2. Expose yourself to light. Get as much natural sunlight as you can. If possible, move your desk to one near the window and take a walk at lunch time even if it is cold. Consider purchasing a dawn simulator which can help to make waking up a little easier and definitely consider buying a light box. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) is activated by darkness so when it gets darker earlier in the day your body starts to literally tell itself that it’s time to sleep which is why you feel so tired during the Winter! Light boxes produce a different wavelength of light and the fact that they are 20 times brighter than a regular light bulb (10,000 LUX). This means that sitting near one for 30 minutes a day can help to reduce the melatonin levels in your body making your feel more upbeat and less fatigued.
3. Stick to a healthy diet. While is is very tempting to indulge in stodgy food during the colder months, the extra carbs and excess sugar will only make you feel worse. Get your five-a-day, every day and wherever possible eat lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Eating a healthy balanced diet will help you feel less lethargic and help support your immune system too.
4. Keep moving. It’s so important to stay active and keep doing the things you love during the Winter months. It might feel like such a chore to visit the gym or continue with your Zumba class but it will definitely help to improve your mood. Don’t turn down invitations and cut yourself off from friends and family no matter how much you feel like hibernating.
5. Plan things to look forward to. This is a huge help to me when what I call The February Funk hits. Just knowing we have a day trip, a dinner out or even something as small as a couple of child free hours to do as I wish, really helps me to stay positive.
6. Hibernate. Hibernate if you must for short periods of time but don’t make it a winter long respite.
7. Talk to your doctor. If you are concerned about how you are feeling or if your friends and family tell you they are concerned about your mental health do not delay. See your family doctor as soon as possible.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is not easy to live with but try to remember that it only lasts through the Winter. Try the tips above to make things easier for yourself. Spring is on it’s way and we’ll all feel better soon.