I don’t know about you, but I’m really not keen on this time of year. As the temperature drops and the evenings get darker I just want to hibernate until summer comes round again. But this isn’t exactly practical for six months of the year!
The term used for winter time depression is Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) and according to research, 5% of Americans and 7% of Brits are thought to suffer with the condition. Symptoms range from sleep problems and mood swings to lethargy, fatigue and depression.
The theory behind Seasonal Affective Disorder is that the lack of sunlight during the winter months affects the nerve centres in our brains which control our daily rhythms and moods. If you experience this condition each year then the good news is that there are several things you can do help your symptoms.
Top up on vitamin D
Research has shown that SAD symptoms may be linked to low levels of vitamin D, which the body normally produces in response to exposure to sunlight. A clinical trial carried out at a teaching hospital in Baltimore studied the effects of vitamin D on people with SAD and the results showed an improvement in all the subjects. It’s difficult to get the required amount of vitamin D we need from food, but high strength vitamin D3 supplements may help during the winter months.
Get your omega-3s
The omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, are reportedly good for warding off depression and improving low mood and poor concentration. If you’re a vegetarian, or just not a fan of fish, then you can up your intake through eating more flax seeds and walnuts or by taking a good quality omega-3 supplement.
See the light
A lack of light causes an increase in the body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us feel sleepy) and brings about a reduction in serotonin (the brain’s feelgood chemical). Light therapy can be effective in reversing this process and alleviating the symptoms of SAD. The therapy involves exposure to very bright light – at least 10 times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting – for up to four hours a day. You can buy special lightboxes which sit on your desk (indeed I have one right by me as I write this) as well as alarm clocks that wake you up gradually with an increasing amount of light. All you need to do is sit two to three feet away from the box, allowing the light to shine directly through your eyes.
Use your mind
I’m a big believer in the power of the mind, so here’s a visualization exercise that you might want to try, to boost your spirits during these cold, dark days. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Draw your attention to your belly and imagine that there is a ball of warmth and heat inside you – a bit like the sun. Each time you breathe in and out, imagine that this ‘sun’ is radiating heat and warmth throughout your body. As your breathing gets deeper imagine the sun’s rays radiating out to your fingertips, down to your toes and out through the crown of your head. Visualise your whole body glowing with warmth and radiance. Stay with this image for a few minutes before bringing your awareness back to the present.
Say it with flowers!
If you’re looking for a natural way to boost your mood then you might want to try Bach Flower Remedies. These work naturally to lift your mood and energy levels, increasing wellbeing without the side effects of prescribed drugs. Each of the remedies has been prepared from flowers of wild plants, trees and bushes so you couldn’t get more natural! The remedies Gorse and Mustard are said to help counteract low mood whilst boosting energy levels. Olive or Hornbeam may help to increase motivation. Simply add a couple of drops to a glass of water or drip them directly on to your tongue.
I hope these suggestions keep you going throughout the winter time and help to beat the blues. It won’t be long till summer’s here again!