Do you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the ‘winter blues’? As autumn turns to winter they are more common than you might think.
Editor Jane Garton looks at easy ways brighten up your days
If you notice a drop in your mood as the weather turns colder and the days shorter you are not alone. As many as one in three of us is thought to be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at some point in life, a type of low mood that begins around now, peaks in mid-winter, and gradually eases as spring arrives. Meanwhile, around one in 20 suffer the milder, but still saddening, winter blues.
What are the symptoms and why do we suffer?
Difficulty in getting and staying asleep, lethargy, a craving for sweet things, anxiety, mood swings and loss of libido are typical symptoms. Why these occur is not 100% clear, but the loss of a daylight hour in autumn can put some people’s body clocks out of synch.
Lack of light is also thought to interfere with certain brain hormones. This can boost the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy, while reducing serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
But the good news is however dark and gloomy your mood there is still plenty you can do to lift your spirits.
Light up your life
Make the most of natural daylight indoors by tying back curtains, rearranging furniture so you can sit near a window or hanging a mirror to reflect outdoor light. Replace light bulbs with daylight bulbs that simulate natural daylight or broad-spectrum bulbs that give off pure white light. If may also be worth investing in a light box providing 10,000 lux.
Aim to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day, especially if the sun is shining. Research carried out by mental health charity Mind shows that being outside in green spaces helps to lift mood. Group nature walks may be particularly beneficial while other studies show that outdoor exercise can help too. The reason? Activity is thought to boost brain levels of serotonin.
A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables helps control weight as well as the urge to comfort eat. Warming soups and stews are ideal. Try to also include some oily fish – it contains some vitamin D, which we’re short of in winter, healthy omega-3 fats, and a host of other nutrients. Avoid artificial stimulants such as caffeine and go for soothing herbal teas instead. Try camomile, lime flower or lavender.
Establishing a regular sleep/wake schedule, which means going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, can help to synchronise your body clock, say the experts. Avoiding bright light for at least two hours before going to bed allows you to unwind and prepare for sleep. Getting up early to make the most of morning daylight can help to regulate circadian rhythm and reduce daytime sleepiness.
Talk about it
Sharing your feelings with family and friends can help to lessen the burden. Always speak to your GP or healthcare professional if you are feeling overwhelmed.
A course of St John’s wort sometimes known as the sunshine herb may help to lift your mood. You should always consult your doctor before taking this herb in case of adverse reactions with other prescribed medicines.
For more information visit the SAD website.