Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) affects many people in the UK. The days get shorter, the weather gets colder, and some people will leave for work and return home without seeing daylight at all. Natural light is so important for our mood, skin and bones and without daily exposure we can be left feeling a little low.
If the short days and dark mornings mean you have to endure sleep problems, depression, overeating, loss of concentration, lethargy, anxiety, loss of libido or mood changes, then you could be one of the two million people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or the ‘winter blues’*.
SAD is particularly prevalent in December, January and February. The disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain linked to the lack of light in the winter months. As light enters the eye, it stimulates nerve impulses to travel to the part of the brain which controls sleep, appetite, mood, temperature and sex drive. With less light entering the eyes in winter months, these functions are affected.
One of the main treatments for SAD is Light Therapy which has been shown to be effective in up to 60%** of diagnosed cases. Light Therapy involves sitting two to three feet away from a specially designed light box. If the light source is very powerful (10,000 lux) then 30-45 minutes per day is usually sufficient. With less powerful light boxes, 2-3 hours a day are needed. Light boxes cost from £100 upwards and are not available on the NHS. The SAD Association can provide a list of suppliers.
S.A.D symptoms include:
- Lacking in energy and feeling lethargic
- Problems sleeping
- Irritability and anxiety issues
- Weight gain due to craving carbs and sweet foods
- Consider taking a holiday in January or February to somewhere bright and sunny.
- Psychotherapy, counselling or any complementary therapy which helps the sufferer to relax, accept their illness and cope with its limitations are extremely useful.
- Regular massage is an ideal way to help SAD sufferers feel better, besides inducing deep relaxation, it positively affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin which is vital for a good night’s sleep, endorphins which regulate pain and dopamine which affects our ability to feel pleasure. The stress hormone cortisol, is also significantly reduced during massage.
If you’re recognising these symptoms in yourself then we can help you with our 5-Step Guide To Beating The Winter Blues
1. Make the most of the daylight you do see
Open your curtains as soon as you wake up, even if it’s still dark outside. As the sky gets lighter and you’re moving about getting ready for your day, you will absorb the natural light through your window. Another suggestion would be to take a short walk in the morning or exercise first thing outside, this will not only wake you up but exercise releases endorphins which will make you feel happier in your mood. Why not also try going for a short walk on your lunch break? You’ll feel fresh when you return to your work plus, you will get the natural daylight your body is craving!
2. Keep an eye on your diet
Resist temptation when it comes to those carbohydrates and other 'treats'. Carbohydrates are good for you, but in moderation; so if you’re craving them at the wrong time of day, pick up an apricot or apple instead - these fruits can raise your serotonin levels. It’s also important to keep away from caffeine or at least reduce your intake. Caffeine will certainly give you a lift in the mornings, however it can also crash your energy levels, making you feel tired, low and in some cases anxious. We would also advise you keep an eye on your alcohol intake too. Many of us thoroughly enjoy a glass of wine or warm, wintery spirit in the evenings however alcohol is a depressant, and if you’re already feeling a little low, it could make you feel worse.
3. Make some time for you!
Feeling relaxed and calm can help lighten your mood too. It’s very easy to forget to make time for yourself to just do nothing and recharge. Feeling revitalised will give you more energy, feel happier and ready to battle this wintery period. Regular massage is an ideal way to feel better, besides inducing deep relaxation, it positively affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin which is vital for a good night’s sleep, endorphins which regulate pain and dopamine which affects our ability to feel pleasure. The stress hormone cortisol is also significantly reduced during massage. Spend some time at our spa in Hampshire to de-stress and unwind with one of our spa treatments.
4. Spend time with friends and family
It is important not to isolate yourself during the winter months, as spending too much time alone can raise levels of stress and hinder sleep, as well as increase depression and anxiety. Help combat loneliness by reaching out to friends and family; whether that be for a walk, a coffee or enjoying a spa day together at our Hampshire spa.
5. Forest therapy
Forest bathing is another effective way of tackling the symptoms of S.A.D. Not only are you absorbing vital sunlight, but by walking through the forest you are reducing stress and boosting your serotonin levels too. Forest bathing promotes mindfulness and encourages you to be present - pay close attention to what is around you, what can you hear? Can you smell anything? What textures can you feel?
Remember: if you feel that you are not coping, it is important to reach out to help whether than be from a health professional or a close friend.