The winter blues, sometimes more technically referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can occur in people of any age and is becoming more common around the globe.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a psychological disorder which tends to result in feelings of depression. It is usually prompted by the change in the seasons and is most commonly called the winter blues, or winter depression as more people tend to suffer with it throughout the winter period. It most commonly occurs when the seasons change from summer into autumn and winter, however, there are some people who also suffer from it the other way around and feel worse in the summer months and better through the winter period.
What causes seasonal affective disorder is currently not fully understood but it is believed to be linked to changing light levels and reduced exposure to sunlight in the autumn and winter months. Limited exposure to sunlight can cause a drop in melatonin a reduced production of serotonin and interfere with the bodies circadian rhythm. It appears as though seasonal affective disorder may also run in peoples genes as some cases seem to run in families.
What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
The symptoms of the winter blues can vary, but usually, tend to include a combination of the following:
- A persistent low mood
- A greater level of irritability
- A lack of interest in everyday activities which previously brought pleasure
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- A lack of energy or sleeping during the day
- Finding it hard to get up in the morning and sleeping for longer
- Craving starchy foods resulting in a sudden gain in weight
Some people experience very strong versions of these symptoms which can be debilitating and have a significant impact on their day to day lives. For these people, it’s important to get help and reach out to a healthcare professional who may be able to help you.
What can you do to help reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder?
- Get outside
Try to spend as much time outdoors as possible in natural light, especially on bright and sunny days. Sunshine is linked to an increase in the production of serotonin which can affect your mood and appetite. If you can’t get outside because of work or some other reason they try to sit near a window to absorb as much sunlight as possible.
- Stay active
Exercise has been proven to promote the production of mood-boosting chemicals which can help you to feel less depressed. Going for a walk in the middle of the day has been found to be as effective as light therapy in treating the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder in some people, so try to get moving even if just for a few minutes each day.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Although you may be craving carbohydrates it’s important to try and maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet to boost your mood, give you energy and stop you putting on too much weight over winter which can then worsen your depression. Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and steer away from salty, high fat processed foods which will make you feel sluggish.
- Try light therapy
Light therapy can bring sunlight to you, wherever you are. Sit in front of a lightbox for 30 minutes to an hour each day to see if this helps you. Lightboxes produce light that is up to 10 times stronger than ordinary office or home lighting, though they can be expensive – if you want to try light therapy then try to find an offer which will allow you to return in if you find it is not working within 30 days or so.
- Try talking therapy
Sometimes talking can be a great way to help sufferers manage their symptoms, there are a number of different types of talking therapies available such as counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy. Alternatively simply talking to friends and family may help lighten your emotional load.
- Try mood-boosting supplements
Under normal circumstances, dopamine and serotonin production is managed effectively by your body’s nervous system however seasonal affective disorder can reduce the production of these happy hormones. Mood-boosting supplements such as Mucuna Pruriens and DL-phenylalanine can help with the production of dopamine and serotonin which are responsible for making you feel happy – it’s always advisable to consult a doctor before trying anything new though, especially if you are taking other medications.
- Join a support group
Seasonal affective disorder is becoming quite common and as such support groups, both online and in the community, are forming to help people with their symptoms. Sharing your experiences of living with seasonal affective disorder with others who know what it is like can be very therapeutic and can also make sufferers feel less alone and isolated.