At this time of the year when light is low, I tend to struggle with low mood and have been using my SAD lamp when working in front of my computer. I know that I am not the only one who has been struggling with darkness and I hope you will find my blog below on how to beat the winter blues helpful.
|Even though winter may have a lot going for it – hot chocolate, curling up with a book, thick socks or a log fire – something important is missing: light.
At this time of year, you are likely to get up before sunrise and finish working after sunset, with very little exposure to natural light in between. This lack of light over months on end causes serious problems for many people.
SAD AND ITS SYMPTOMS
According to BUPA, the ‘winter blues’, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects about 3% of the population. It affects women more often than men, and particularly people who are on the verge of depression already. SAD comes with a variety of symptoms, including low mood, listlessness, an increased need for sleep and cravings for sweets and carbohydrates – and therefore weight gain.
POSSIBLE CAUSES FOR SAD
The exact cause of SAD is not yet properly understood, but it is thought that an imbalance of neurotransmitters is involved. Those are messenger substances in the brain needed for mental and physical performance, mood and sleep – melatonin and serotonin, among others. Melatonin – the sleep hormone – is made in the body from serotonin – the happy hormone. The lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin due to low levels of light can tip sensitive people over the edge. Serotonin is a brain chemical required to make you feel happy and content, for motivation and activity. Many common anti-depressants work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
While serotonin production requires light, the closely related neurotransmitter melatonin requires darkness. During the long nights of winter, more serotonin is converted into melatonin, further reducing the levels of our “happy” neurotransmitter. Melatonin is required for sleep, but too much of it may make you sleepy during the day, and in fact tiredness is a common symptom of SAD.
Low vitamin D levels also affect mood. This vitamin is the only one your body can produce. It is made in the skin under the influence of sunlight, so of course we make less of it during the winter. No wonder then, that many of us are feeling low at this time of year.
HOW TO BEAT SAD
- Spend at least 30 minutes each day in front of a full-spectrum lightbox such as my SAD Solutions Mini Daylight Sad Light (https://www.sad.co.uk).
- Don’t wear sunglasses when you are out during the winter.
- Exercise outdoors. When your body feels better, so does the mind! It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you are active. Even a 10-minute walk is better than nothing.
- Eat food rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin) such as dairy products, eggs, red meat, poultry (especially turkey), fish, chocolate, oats, dried dates, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, bananas, spirulina and peanuts. Combine those tryptophan rich-foods with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, brown pasta, wholegrain bread or oats to allow easier transport of tryptophan to the brain.
- Top up your vitamin D by eating foods rich in vitamin D such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, fresh tuna, trout, halibut, mackerel), high-quality cod liver oil, egg yolks and liver. Get your vitamin D levels checked as if yours is low, food is not going to cut it. You may have to get yourself a nutritional supplement of vitamin D3.