When the clocks go back an hour, the days immediately seem darker and shorter. For most of us it’s hard to get up in the morning when it’s windy, rainy and dark outside. We all know that feeling of wanting to stay in bed with Netflix or a good book.
While it’s common that most people feel a bit blue during those grey, cold days, there is a small minority who experience real depression during winter. Psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal even gave a name for this winter depression, namely Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is experienced more commonly in the northern hemisphere. Symptoms usually begin in late autumn or early winter and disappear once spring has arrived. It’s estimated that over half a million people in the UK and more than 10 million Americans are affected by the condition.
SAD is thought to be triggered by the lack of sunlight which affects your hormone levels in the hypothalamus: a small section of the brain responsible for the production of hormones such as melatonin (which regulates sleep) and serotonin (associated with feeling good and happy). These hormones control your mood, sleep and appetite.
While people suffering from depression usually have trouble sleeping or a lack of appetite, those suffering from SAD experience the opposite, they have a strong yearning to ‘hibernate’. They want to spend the day sleeping and eating, craving carbohydrates, comfort food and sweets.
If grey skies and those cold winter days are weighing you down, you would think that moving to a sunnier destination would be the solution to the problem. While moving closer to the equator might benefit some, it’s important that people get a correct diagnosis before they pack their bags and leave the grey clouds behind. There is the possibility that you begin feeling depressed in autumn or winter but perhaps it has been triggered but something other than the time of year. It is so important, therefore to consult your GP before making any rash decisions.
Beat the winter blues
But what should you do when moving to a country with a better climate is not an option for you? Don’t fret as there is light to the end of the long, dark and cold tunnel. Here are a few tips for surviving those dark days of winter:
- Try light therapy: light therapy is one of the most popular and effective treatments for SAD. According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, 85% of sufferers benefit from the treatment. During the treatment you sit in front of light box for between 20 to 90 minutes a day, without staring directly into the light.You can sit in front of the box while reading or watching TV. There are some insurance companies who will reimburse you, so it is worth checking your policy.
- Go outside: purchasing a light box doesn’t mean you don’t have to go outside anymore. Even though it’s cold outside, regular exposure to natural sunlight boosts your serotonin levels and provides your body with vitamin D which can help lessen the effects of SAD.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle: exercise, getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, and reducing the stress in your life can all help lift your mood.
- Treat yourself to a weekend getaway: if you can afford it, book a trip somewhere sunny. Not only will the sunshine and relaxation do wonders for your mood, but it will give you something to look forward to during the winter months.
- Do more of what makes you happy: when you’re feeling miserable it’s easy to neglect the things that make you happy. However, it’s important to take care of yourself. Try to incorporate the things that make you smile into your daily routine, the more indulgent the better!
Are you struggling with SAD? Do you have any tips for fellow SAD sufferers?
Image: [David Goehring]