The summer is gradually coming to an end and as the seasons change it is not unusual for changes in mood to appear. A long winter can take its toll on the body in many ways and cause people to feel down or blue.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) commonly produces many symptoms of depression, and as a result it is often referred to as the ‘winter blues.’ SAD is a fairly common problem, particularly for people living in countries with cooler climates like the UK, however, many people are not aware that changes in mood can be due to the loss of sunlight.
Follow these expert tips to discover how simple changes to diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplements can help to protect you from the winter blues.
What is SAD?
It is estimated that 1 in 8 people living in the UK may suffer from a mild form of ‘winter blues’ and as many as 1 in 50 people suffer from severe symptoms of SAD. It commonly affects four times more women than men and often begins between the ages of 20 and 30, although it can occur at any age.
It is believed that the loss of sunlight induces chemical changes in the brain that result in a form of “winter depression.” Light triggers nerves at the back of the eyes to signal to the brain to release certain chemicals. When less light is received, fewer signals are sent and fewer chemicals are released. As a result, the body produces less serotonin and melotonin, which are essential for mood, appetite and sleep patterns.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern, where symptoms generally tend to occur over the winter period. Symptoms are similar to those experienced in other forms of depression. These include:
- Low mood
- Lack of interest in things that were once interesting
- Feel lethargic
- Low self esteem
- Feeling stressed or anxious
- Reduced sex drive
- Being less active
- Increased appetite
Symptoms generally start to show when the days become shorter and are at their worst from December through to February. Often, symptoms completely disappear in spring. Many people struggle to cope with the symptoms of SAD even though there are a number of ways to reduce the effects.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Light therapy – as regular exposure to natural light is not always possible during the winter months, the use of SAD lamps has become a popular form of treatment. Many people will notice a difference within 3 to 4 days however treatment needs to be maintained everyday until spring.
- Sweat it out – regular exercise helps to relieve stress and anxiety and lifts mood. When possible, exercise outdoors to increase exposure to natural sunlight. Depressive thoughts often increase the desire to isolate oneself from family and friends. Try to avoid this by making exercise a social activity.
- Eat well – when you feel low it is easy to reach for comfort food in an attempt to make yourself feel better. However, eating sugary fatty foods will cause energy spikes and crashes which will ultimately make depressive thoughts even worse. Eating regular healthy meals can help to improve mood.
- Avoid unnecessary stress – stress and anxiety can increase the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Major disruptions, such as moving house or jobs changes, can cause high levels of stress. If stress levels become high try relaxation techniques such as a massage, yoga, or a hot bath.