If you find yourself feeling more glum than usual at this time of year, it might be more than just a case of the blues. Up to one in 15 of us are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is depression related to the changing seasons. And given the circumstances, it may be worse than ever in 2021. The symptoms include a persistent low mood, a loss of interest in activities, irritability, feeling sleepy during the day, finding it hard to get up in the morning, and craving more carbs and putting on weight. I’m sure most of us can relate to at least one of these at this time of year – but if you can tick most of these boxes then it’s possible you could be a SAD sufferer.
According to the NHS website: “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter. A few people with seasonal affective disorder may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter.”
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What Causes SAD?
The main causes all stem from the more limited supply of sunlight during the winter season. The body may produce more melatonin at this time of year (the sleep hormone), leading you to feeling sleepy and lethargic more often. The lack of sunlight could also lead to a lower production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, which can lead to the feelings of depression. The shorter days can also affect our body’s internal clock, which can also lead to the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. So, short of moving to Australia for the winter, how do you stop seasonal affective disorder from ruining your winter?
Here are my top mood-boosting tips for this time of year…
Not only is exercise a great stress reliever, regular exercise can help to improve your sleep quality, which will help to minimise the effects of those extra-sleepy days. Try a hot yoga class to warm up or a dance class for an extra mood boost (a dance class always leaves me feeling great).
Eat Yourself Happy
Of course, a healthy diet is always key in improving your overall wellbeing, but this is particularly important if you’re feeling the effects of SAD. Resist those nagging carb cravings as sugar crashes will only leave you wanting more, and instead opt for protein-packed balanced meals that will offer slow-release energy and plenty of nutrients. Check out my book Eat Beautiful for simple, healthy recipe ideas designed especially for winter.
While the lack of sunlight at this time of year is one of the key reasons for seasonal affective disorder worsening, it’s important to make the most of any sunlight that we can. It’s likely you’re not even getting that 10 minutes of daylight on your walk to and from the tube or bus stop before and after work anymore, so be sure that you’re leaving the office at lunchtime to get some daylight and spend as much of your weekend out and about as you can. Going for a run a couple of the times a week will really help you to banish the blues.
The government recommends that we all take a vitamin D supplement throughout autumn and winter as it just isn’t possible to get enough sunlight for our bodies to create the amounts of the vitamin we need. The most effective (and easiest) way to take this is via an oral spray that is absorbed straight into the bloodstream. Try the BetterYou spray that you can take once a day or check out Dr Nigma Talib’s Vitamin D Sun capsules.
Since it is thought that the lack of sunlight is one of the key causes of SAD, it makes sense that getting more of it could ease symptoms. Jetting off to the Caribbean isn’t possible for most of us so light therapy is an alternative treatment. There are plenty of SAD lights on the market, but make sure that the one you opt for has the proper medical approval, particularly if you’ve been recommended this treatment by your doctor.
If you’re worried that you are suffering from SAD, speak to your health professional for more help and advice.