Whilst the winter months might mean cosy nights in, plenty of festive parties, warm drinks and log fires for some, for others the turning back of the clocks is the catalyst for Seasonal Affective Disorder – also known as Winter Depression, Winter Blues, and Seasonal Depression.
Characterised by people who have normal mood levels throughout the year but fall into bouts of depression during Winter, traditional symptoms include lack of energy, withdrawal from social interaction, feelings of hopelessness, sleep and appetite issues, inability to focus and loss of interest in activities. This isn’t just a dislike of cold mornings and disappointment with dark nights, it’s a psychological and physical reaction to lack of sunlight, decreased temperatures, inevitably more time indoors, but is also thought to be a slight hangover from human evolution. For many species, food is less available in the Winter months, and when humans lived in a truly natural world thousands of years ago, low mood levels would have suppressed natural hunger pangs. As SAD is more common with women, it’s also thought to be linked to an evolutionary process preventing reproduction. Studies show that SAD is more likely to occur within people who display characteristics of neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and an avoidance-orientated coping style.
Having the tools to adapt to each season can be incredibly helpful in navigating the year successfully. Keep reading for 7 ways to effectively deal with SAD.
Sunlight isn’t as accessible at this time of year, so make the most of what you can find! Try waking up with the sun (a little easier during Winter as the sun rises later) - circadian rhythms (the internal body clock) are determined by the first natural light you see, and the first non-water item you consume, so get the day off to a good start by ‘setting off’ your body’s alarm clock with a cup of tea and a side of sunshine.
Although the outside world may not be as inviting during Winter, it’s important to get outside in the morning to take in the early morning daylight as it contains more blue lightwaves (ones that help the body properly wake up) than afternoon light. This is also a good time to breathe in the fresh air and greet a new day. If you’re not able to get outside much during Winter, or you really notice the lack of sunlight, purchase a light box and have it in front of you when you’re indoors. These boxes contain the same measure of light as outdoor sunlight, and encourage the brain to believe it’s surrounded by mood-boosting sunlight. If you’re able to, a week away somewhere warm and sunny is also a wonderful way to curb SAD symptoms, and helps break up the Winter months.
Sunlight also contains valuable vitamin D, and with the standard government advice being to pop a vitamin D capsule during the Winter, this is one supplement that should be in everyone’s cabinet at this time of year. Look for a good quality, high strength supplement if you experience SAD.
Warm Up & Workout
Most of us already know the positive impact exercising can have on the mind; either from reading and hearing about it, or experiencing the rush of endorphins after a run or gym session ourselves. During the Winter, ensure you keep up your regular exercise regime. If your energy levels are lacking, stick to your schedule but take it easy. Getting your daily dose of movement is important for overall wellbeing, but is even more crucial if you’re feeling down.
Take a Yoga class, go for a run, head to the gym for a weights session, swim, play sports, or simply go for a walk with a friend. Anything that gets your body moving will help!
Healthy Fats For A Happy Mind
Once feared, healthy fats are now an important staple in many people’s diets due to their ability to actually decrease body fat, enhance endurance, boost brain power, and regulate hormones. If that wasn’t enough, fats are also one of the most important nutrients for maintaining good mood levels! As mentioned in the LLS article Fats Are Friends Not Foes, healthy fats from Omega 3s are a well known treatment for depression and anxiety – both of which contribute to low levels of constant inflammation in the body. Ensure you’re getting enough fats from avocado, coconut, oily fish, eggs, grass fed dairy products, good quality oils, nuts and seeds. Consider adding an Omega 3 supplement like Krill Oil and vitamin D to your routine at this time of year too, as they’ll both stave off SAD symptoms.
Make plans to socialise, even if it’s just with one or two other people – and stick to them. Tell the people you trust what you’re going through so they can be compassionate, but also be open to some tough love. Your friends and family may not be able to feel exactly what you’re going through, but they care about you and can see things from a clearer perspective. Ensure you speak to someone you love and trust each day, and try helping others when you can either by volunteering or simply being kind. Knowing we’ve helped someone and have done a good deed can enhance mood levels dramatically.
Get Gut Health Happy
Your gut is so intrinsically connected to your brain, so much so in fact, that changes in the microbiome (the billions of bacteria in the gut) have been shown in several studies to be linked to depression. The gut and brain communicate via the microbiota, which links emotional and cognitive brain activity to the function of the intestines. Getting enough fibre, exercising regularly, consuming enough water, eating fresh foods as opposed to processed, and cutting down on sugar can all help improve gut health. Consuming natural probiotics like kefir and sauerkraut or the new LLS Lactospore® Plus can also go a long way to improving the health of the gut and therefore the whole body. A probiotic is one of the most important supplements you can add to your routine, so stock up!
Knowing what lies ahead can help you prepare for Winter properly. Gather together all the tools mentioned here, and remind loved ones that you may need some extra support in upcoming months. The other important plans to make are the ones that come to fruition after Winter. Feelings of hopelessness can be lessened if you have exciting things awaiting you in Spring. If a holiday, a new project, a career change, or a spa day are in your calendar to look forward to, you’ll know there’s light at the end of what can seem like a very long tunnel.