Research has shown that up to 29 per cent of British people suffer from symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as “winter depression”. Eight percent of these people suffer from acute symptoms, ranging from severe fatigue, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Do you dread the darker nights? Is Christmas time synonymous with anxiety and low mood? Do you feel your energy levels dropping as the days get shorter?
If you find this time of year a struggle, you are not alone. Here are ten practical tips for beating SAD and making the busy winter period a little easier to manage.
Understand The Problem
Signs of SAD can appear as early as September but may peak around November right through to January. Being aware of the signs is the key to prevention and management: excessive tiredness, craving sweet foods and carbohydrates, lacking energy and wanting to hibernate are all classic symptoms of SAD.
Recognizing that these symptoms are your own normal reaction to the change in weather can help you accept them and reduce their negative effects. Read up on the condition and its treatments at www.sada.org.uk.
The increase in darkness over winter time, combined with all the other day to day stresses we encounter, can make us feel suffocated, restricted and even fearful.
Widening our perspective of the situation can make it a little more bearable.
Understand that this is a temporary experience, that all things pass in time and that this is your call to be kind to yourself.
Try taking a long walk to the top of a big hill, watch a documentary about space, or take a short trip away. This will give you a look at the bigger picture and help you recognise that the darkness in your mind is a perception that can and will change.
MRI scans show that after an eight week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fights of flight” centre (the amygdala) appears to shrink. This is the part of the brain that initiates stress symptoms and is associated with fear and emotion.
This may seem unrealistic in the modern world, but reducing your use of electronics can have a positive effect on you mental health. The light emitted from electronic devices makes your brain work harder and can make it difficult to relax, particularly before bed.
Try replacing your nightly Facebook scroll with half an hour of reading a good book, taking a hot bath or listening to some relaxing music.
Finding a balance between doing too much and being inactive can really make a difference when it comes to winter depression. The best way to achieve this is to keep some form of routine.
Setting your alarm for the same time each morning will cue your brain for wakefulness and give you a degree of familiarity.
Try and ensure you spend time in nature as this will help you feel grounded. Take time out for at least ten minutes of gentle exercise a day, whether it be walking, yoga or browsing the shops.
Get More Light
The reduction of light in winter is a key factor in SAD symptoms and light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases.
Keeping one room in your home bright can make it a “safe place” that will lift your mood. Going for an early morning walk will also give you an energy boost for the day as it exposes you to natural light.
Medically approved light boxes that filter out UV light are a highly effective method of tackling SAD. Check out this one available from Amazon: amazon.co.uk/Redstone-SAD-Light-Box-Medically or consult your doctor for information on NHS light boxes.
Use Essential Oils
Aromatherapy has long since been used to treat mood disorders and there are a huge range of essential oils that can help individual symptoms.
Inhaling them throughout the day can give you the energy lift you need or induce a sense of calm during anxious periods.
Top recommended oils for SAD include Bergamot, Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Ylang Ylang. Find out more at doterra.com.
Winter is a time for recuperation and rest at the end of a busy year. This isn’t always easy in our fast-paced society, so it is important to make time to replenish yourself in the same way that you make time for work, family events and household duties.
Take a break from the norm by going to see a play or a feel-good movie. Treat yourself to a new outfit. Take care of your skin against the elements with a beauty regime.
Give yourself permission to relax and do something that is just for you.
Change Your Diet
You may find yourself craving junk at this time of year, but it will only give you a temporary fix while causing the release of insulin and drops in blood sugar, which in turn lead to more cravings.
Poor patterns of eating can have significant long term effects on your health, physically and emotionally. Aim for low-impact carbs including unprocessed oats, legumes and nuts, as well as high protein foods to keep sugar cravings at bay.
A varied range of colour in your diet is important. Processed foods will keep you in the craving loop and feed low mood symptoms, so nourish your body and mind with fresh foods.
Being vocal about how you feel can be the difference between mild seasonal blues and acute, debilitating winter depression.
Talking things out with a friend or loved one may take a load off. But if you don’t feel you can open up to anyone close to you, speak to your doctor or anonymously via the helplines listed below.
Don’t carry the burden of SAD alone. It’s real, it’s okay, and it’s treatable!
MIND: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Samaritans: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Anxiety UK: 08444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
Lifeline: 0808 808 8000 (free 24-hour helpline)