Do you find your mood takes a dip over the winter months? If so, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder. But the good news is, there are ways to boost your mood
During the dark winter months, many of us may notice a drop in our mood. With shorter days and gloomy weather, research commissioned by The Weather Channel and YouGov found that as many as 29% of adults experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with 8% experiencing it to a severe degree.
We aren’t certain why some people get SAD, but it’s believed that seasonal changes disrupt our circadian rhythm – the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours – which is responsible for making us feel energised and alert at certain times, and drowsy at others.
For some people, the symptoms of SAD can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities – plus all forms of depression can limit our ability to live life to its fullest, so it’s important to treat SAD seriously. So, what can you do to help yourself manage the symptoms of SAD?
1. Make the most of the sunlight
Try to find time to get outside during the day, and take advantage of what sunlight there is. Going on a gentle stroll around midday is ideal, as that’s when the sun is at its brightest – though if it’s cold, be sure to wrap up warm. Once you’re back indoors, keep your blinds open to let in as much natural light as you can. You want to be in bright environments whenever possible.
2. Light therapy
A useful tool to treat SAD can be light therapy boxes, which is a special lamp that mimics sunshine. To qualify them for light therapy, lamps must have a brightness of at least 2,500 lux, and you can buy them in stores and online, with prices ranging from £20 to well into the hundreds. Sitting in front of a lightbox for about 30 minutes a day will stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms, and suppress its natural release of melatonin – the hormone that helps to promote sleep. To get the most out of your lightbox, try using it first thing in the morning when it’s most effective.
3. Talking therapies
Because SAD is a form of depression, it’s best diagnosed by your GP, who will additionally be able to establish whether you’re experiencing SAD as opposed to another form of depression. Counselling, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), could also help you work through your feelings, and become more in control of your mood.
4. Antidepressant medication
If light therapy or counselling does not sufficiently boost your mood, a prescription such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be appropriate. Some people think it’s only necessary to take antidepressants during the winter when they’re feeling the blues, but they must do so every winter as it’s important to recognise when the symptoms of SAD start, and to see your GP before they escalate.
5. St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is a natural herbal remedy that some people find to be effective for depressive symptoms, including SAD. Although there is limited evidence to prove the effect of St John’s Wort, some small studies have been published to support it, and the NHS notes that this over-the-counter remedy could soothe mild to moderate symptoms. That said, the herbal remedy can interact with other common medicines, so be sure to speak to your GP before giving it a go.
Counselling, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), could also help you work through your feelings, and become more in control of your mood
6. Diet and nutrition
Food can have a huge influence on our mood. Did you know that 90% of our serotonin and 50% of our dopamine is produced in our gut? Therefore, eating more oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolk, and fortified foods such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals, will not only improve your gut health, but also increase your overall wellbeing.
7. Vitamin D supplements
A study published in the journal Nutrients in 2014 found that people who took vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) supplements saw significant improvement in their depressive symptoms, and Public Health England even recommends that we take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D between October and March. For many, this is an inexpensive way to treat mild SAD.