If you haven’t heard of this before, chances are you one of the lucky ones that don’t particularly feel the effects. It’s loosely known as “A winter depression” and usually starts when the seasons change. The daylight gets less, the darkness surrounds us from the moment we get out of bed to when we come home from work, and it’s oppressive and feels never ending because the days are just shorter. Autumn and winter are the worst, typically during December January and February; however, the good news is that it does dissipate with the emergence of spring and summer!
For a lot of people this is something that is just part of being in winter, the cravings of comfort food, more carbohydrate based foods and sorry to say gaining of weight, it’s our body’s way of hibernating without the sleep. We store the food but sadly don’t let the season overlook us as we sleep our way through it, saying that sleep does get impacted and the need for more, is not uncommon along with the age old: Finding it hard to get up in a morning, as the lull of a nice warm cozy bed and duvet is often all too alluring. I’m sure many of you are nodding at that one, I know I am. Other symptoms are being overly grumpy, or perhaps being in a low mood that you just can’t seem to shake, with no interest or being engaged as you would normally in everyday activities. These are general symptoms, however as with many mental or physical health issues, there is always a sliding scale of which can be more extreme for others and feelings of despair, guilt, worthlessness can also crop up. This is not something to bat away as “nothing, I’m fine”, so to help I have mapped out 5 handy ways to help reduce symptoms.
A dose of fresh air!
We all know exercise if good for you and the more the light closes in, the less likely we are to go run outside or take ourselves for a walk, but this is exactly when you should. Wrap up warm, take a flask if it helps and stride out in the crisp fresh air, seeing the beautiful colours of leaves that have fallen, jump in the puddles and enjoy the cold on your cheeks, this in turn will help you be able to manage our stress and anxiety levels and get some much needed exercise. If you can brave it, try going for a jog/run outside. Find a run club or a friend and run together. Go skiing, snowboarding, these are all brilliant ways to keep fit and have fun and fundamentally, this is the best way to reduce symptoms of SAD.
You might not want to, you might want to gorge on all the carbohydrate based breads, pasta, rice, calorie high foods known to man… this is understandable, however try to minimize the exposure of this and if you eat carbohydrates, have them in the morning or lunch so you can have time to burn them off and not feel so sluggish and change them to wholemeal so you are getting some goodness from them. Be mindful with what you are eating, eat food that is in season, have smaller portions of the things you enjoy so you don’t feel you are abstaining and most of all enjoy your food. Don’t be so hard on yourself but do think about what you are eating, as it will help your body’s way to cope with SAD. If you fill it with junk, your body will embrace all that is SAD and make you suffer. Don’t suffer unnecessarily.
It is one of the most important aspects of being well we have. Getting the right amount of sleep is such an ambiguous statement, as each person is different, and some can be perfectly happy and spritely on 4 hours as to someone who needs a good solid 8, neither is wrong, it’s just how our bodies are. Saying that, we all need sleep, it is what fundamentally helps us feel better; it is an integral part of our lifestyle and benefit our heart, weight, mind and many more, from improved memory, help you live longer, curb inflammation, improve creativity, increase drive and performance, allow for a healthy weight and ultimately lower stress levels, so get the sleep you need, if you are tired during the day, take a 15 min cat nap, power naps are just as usual, and then get a good night’s sleep with no distractions so you start the day on the best footing you can.
Seek Medical Help
If you are feeling that you are suffering from SAD and are unable to cope, go and see a doctor. They will have numerous way to assess your mental health, and carry out a series of questions about your current and change in mood, lifestyle, eating habits, sleeping patterns plus any seasonal changes to your thoughts and behaviour that you may have noticed or may be others have on your behalf. They will then be able to advise encouragingly with helpful ways to promote a better way of being, in extreme cases, medication.
Since the main cause of SAD is lack of sunlight, this is a special lamp called a light box. It is used to simulate exposure to sunlight and to give the user a positive response to the lack of sunlight. Don’t be duped with a Dawn Simulator, as great as they are, they are not the same thing as they only treat part of the problem. These lights are to help improve the mood, reduce tiredness, lethargy and give you that much needed boost of light exposure we are all missing out on.
Words by Carole Armitage: Personal Trainer, Wellbeing Coach and founder of The “Change Movement”