If you find your mood changes with the seasons, you may be one of many that experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD, also known as winter depression or winter blues, can be triggered by the lack of sunlight in winter and is typically characterised by experiencing a low mood during the colder months. The lack of sunlight can affect the circadian rhythms – the levels of melatonin and serotonin in the part of the brain that controls mood, sleep and appetite.
How to help beat symptoms of SAD:
Light therapy works by aiming to replace the missing daylight by using a bright light that mimics outdoor natural light and daily exposure may help to reduce symptoms of SAD. There are two different types of light therapy; a light box – which delivers light up to ten times the intensity of the average household bulb, whilst filtering out harmful UV rays, or a dawn simulator – a device that acts as an alarm clock, but rather than waking you abruptly with music or beeping, it produces light gradually like a rising sun.
Regular exercise can boost serotonin and endorphins, chemicals in the brain that boost your mood. It can also improve sleep and self-esteem, which are also considered symptoms of SAD. It is suggested that rhythmic exercise is the most beneficial, such as walking, running or swimming – particularly if you are able to exercise outside in natural daylight (although swimming may be a little chilly!)
Eat a balanced diet
Symptoms of SAD can increase cravings of sugary foods and simple carbohydrates such as pasta and white bread, however resisting these cravings and eating a balanced diet of fresh fruit and vegetables can help boost energy and reduce mood swings. Complex carbs such as oats, wholegrain bread, brown rice and bananas can also help to increase serotonin levels, as well as foods rich in omega-3 fats such as oily fish, walnuts, soybeans and flaxseeds.
As natural sunlight is significantly reduced in the winter, it is important to get as much as possible when the sun does come out. Wrapping up warm and getting out for a walk can improve serotonin levels and boost your mood, and is most effective around midday when the sun is brightest.
Stick to a schedule
Trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning are common symptoms of SAD, and ensuring you keep to a schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time everyday can help alleviate these symptoms. Keeping a schedule will also help with consistent light exposure, as well as eating at regular intervals.
Get more vitamin D
Research found that low levels of vitamin D have been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and supplementing with vitamin D may improve symptoms. Supplementing with this vitamin during the winter months can have other benefits such as boosting the immune system as well as contributing to normal bone, heart and muscle function, as our bodies are not able to get enough vitamin D through sunlight alone during these months.