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Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD. How can I ease the symptoms of 'winter blues'?

As the days are getting shorter and the temperature drops, we start spending more time indoors. Our exposure to sunlight decreases, which for some people can become a real struggle. Many people experience the symptoms of sadness, low mood, or feeling lethargic or sleepier during the day. You might notice changes in appetite – craving comfort foods, such as carbohydrates and sugar. It is important to pay attention to these changes in behaviour as this may lead to gaining weight and consequently feeling worse about yourself.

For many people, these symptoms are mild and will not affect their daily activities. However, if you notice that your symptoms are more severe and you are becoming depressed during the winter months, you might be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). According to the NHS, 1 in 15 people suffers from SAD also known as ‘winter blues’ or ‘winter depression’.

Between October and February, many people get up and get ready for work, when it is still dark outside, and spend their daylight hours indoors. This change in the environment impacts our circadian rhythm causing a chemical imbalance in the brain. Darkness and low light trigger the production of melatonin – a hormone which regulates our sleep-wake cycle, making us feel sleepy during the day. Decreased activity of serotonin – our ‘feel happy’ and ‘boost energy’ neurotransmitter, makes us feel lethargic and depressed.

The good news is that you do not have to wait till spring to start feeling better. You can help yourself using the tips below:

Tip: try Bright Light Therapy

Research shows that light therapy can reduce the symptoms of seasonal depression by spending at least half an hour a day, in front of the lightbox – a strong light that mimics sunshine.

Tip: move towards the natural light

Try spending time outside even on a cloudy day. As you know, walking has many health benefits so make it a habit. If you are working from home, position yourself near the window to catch every glimpse of light.

Tip: eat foods that support a healthy brain and improve mood

Enrich your diet with phytonutrients such as apples, berries, grapes, kale, onions, green tea, dark chocolate, and add spices, such as cinnamon, oregano and nutmeg to your food.

Tip: exercise to boost your mood

Daily exercise promotes healthy serotonin levels and helps release ‘feel good’ endorphins. Walk, jog, swim or participate in any sport that you enjoy to improve your mental health.

Tip: supplements

Consult your doctor as to whether it would be beneficial for you to add Omega-3 (with EPA and DHA), vitamin D3, zinc and magnesium to your healthy diet.

Tip: if your symptoms are persistent

Talking therapy such CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or counselling can help you learn how to deal with stress, anxieties and depression.

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