It is estimated that approximately seven percent of the population are affected by seasonal affected disorder (SAD), but the actual figure may be considerably more as many people just struggle through the winter months without seeking help. So what is it? SAD is characterised by feelings of depression in the winter months. It is thought to be due to reduced daylight and some doctors believe lower vitamin D levels, due to lack of sunlight, also contribute to the problem. The symptoms that distinguish SAD from normal depression are sleeping more and craving more carbohydrate rich foods. Usually symptoms start in the autumn around the time the clocks go back. People suffering from SAD often feel tired and lethargic, have sleeping difficulties, feel sad, perhaps lack confidence and have the tendency to overeat. Some sufferers experience tension, irritability and reduced sex drive. If you suspect that you may have the condition it is advisable to see your GP so that you can be offered the help that you may be entitled to. If you already know you have the tendency to feel more blue in the winter months, or if you just want to try some things to lift your mood in the winter months and even the rest of the year then here are some self-help steps you can take.
Light therapy – Studies have shown that light therapy can be affective for people suffering mild to severe SAD. Treatments usually last for 30-60 minutes and involve exposure to a light of 2,500 lux or higher. Unfortunately lights are not available on the NHS so if you think a light could benefit you, perhaps put it on your gift list!
Exercise – Exercise can improve our mood because when we exercise, endorphins (the ‘feel good’ chemicals) are released and hang around for hours afterwards. It is thought that exercising outside is even better for SAD due to oxygen levels, natural light exposure and the added visual information around us. If you don’t fancy a walk outside, exercise in a place that lets in some natural light.
Herbal teas – For those experiencing digestive issues due to symptoms of anxiety associated with SAD, then there are many different types of herbal tea that may ease some feelings of discomfort. There are also many herbal teas that have a calming affect on the body and mind. This may aid relaxation and sleep.
Fruits & Vegetables – Vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in our mood due to the way they interact with our brain. Eat a variety of in season fruits and vegetables for even more vitamin and mineral packed plants!
Essential fats – Our brain thrives on essential fats and eating the right amount of them can naturally boost and improve mood. To get the right ratio of omega fats, a combined seed mix is ideal but you’ll also find essential fats in oily fish, eggs, walnuts and evening primrose oil.
Consume low GI carbohydrates to reduce sugar cravings and blood sugar highs and lows. Great examples include soybeans and soy products, brown rice, legumes, millet and nuts.
A good intake of calcium, magnesium and zinc are also recommended for people suffering depression so again these minerals are important for our mood. Foods rich in these include organic dairy produce, brewers yeast, almonds, cashew nuts, brazil nuts, peanuts and pecan nuts, oats, ginger root, lamb, haddock, garlic, potato skin, prunes, raisins, cabbage, artichoke and parsley.
Remember if your feeling blue this winter, your not alone. Seek support from your GP and health professionals. Hypnotherapy and other talking therapies have also helped symptoms associated with SAD, depression and anxiety.