Winter Blues is the term given to depression that people suffer in winter and is commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It affects about 2 million people in the UK and Ireland. It is more common in people living in countries in the northern and southern hemispheres, it is extremely rare in those living within 30 degrees if the Equator, where daylight hours are long, constant and lovely and bright. Symptoms typically begin in early winter as the days grow shorter and slowly start to improve during the spring and summer. Symptoms often reach a peak in January. Symptoms can occur at any time if reduced light levels are experienced at home or at work, for example people working shifts or during long periods of dull weather.
Symptoms are the same as in common depression, including depressed mood and loss of interest in usual activities, anxiety and pessimism and can include fatigue, increased sleep, craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods usually resulting in weight gain, irritability and social withdrawal. Mood changes seen with SAD are usually mild to moderate but can be severe, especially in people with a previous history of depression.
SELF-HELP FOR SAD
We don’t all live within 30 degrees of the equator, but there is a lot we can do to lessen the symptoms:
GET OUTSIDE AND EXERCISE
Aim to get out to maximise exposure to natural sunlight and exercise daily.
Bright-light therapy (or phototherapy) consists of sitting in front of a bright light for at least 30 minutes at the same time each day. Full spectrum lighting (FSL) or bright white light that provides an intensity of at least 10,000 Lux (equivalent to a dawn; a bright midsummer day can measure over 100,000) most closely approximate sunlight.
Specialised light boxes, visors and bulbs are widely available for this purpose. Most people experience a significant improvement within a few weeks of starting bright-light therapy, but treatment should continue at least until spring when it is again easy to be outdoors.
TAKE STEPS TO MANAGE STRESS
In whatever way works for you. Try yoga, learn to meditate or simply enjoy laughter on a regular basis.
A healthy lifestyle and making careful dietary choices can help prevent or relieve symptoms of SAD. Eat lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish and fewer quick-digesting (high glycaemic-load) carbohydrates, particularly foods made from flour and sugar.
Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids from fish can both prevent and treat mild depression. So despite having a geographic predisposition to SAD, Icelanders have the lowest incidence of it in the world, probably because they also have the highest tissue levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Filisa - helps with stress, anxiety, depression, SAD and panic attacks.
St John’s Wort - SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN WITH 5HTP.
5HTP - important for neurotransmitter production and reception. SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN WITH ST JOHN’S WORT.
B Vitamins - vital for energy and supporting the nervous system. B6 deficiencies are common with depression.
Zinc - with B vitamins helps maintain normal brain health and serotonin.
Magnesium - helps promote restful sleep and balanced mood.
GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
Go to bed at a time that allows you to get at least seven hours sleep a night.
WAKE UP NATURALLY
Dawn simulators wake you up by simulating a gradual sunrise at the end of a full night’s sleep.
SEVERE SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
If you are experiencing stress or depression that is serious enough to significantly impact on your quality of life, seek help from a qualified mental-health professional.
‘I actually do feel that Filisa may be starting to do me some good. I still have SAD (which this year is the worst I have had it) and usually at this time of year feel that doing anything is a real ‘drag’, but in the past couple of days have felt I have got a lot more ‘get up and go’ in spite of the still very dark, wet and dreary days. I have been a great cross stitcher for years but in the past few months haven’t even wanted to be bothered with that, but now out it has come again - great’!
L S. Felixstowe
Living in the north of Scotland means great long days in the summer but very short winter days. I always found waking up and getting up in the dark mornings near impossible. My wife bought me a Lumie Bodyclock Advanced which allows you to set a “sunset” and “sunrise” light fade. I can honestly say that it has revolutionised the way I feel when I get up in the mornings. I spend much of my days (and nights!) at my computers and felt the lack of light was not helping my mood which I’m sure my wife would also agree with! After the success of the Bodyclock, I purchased, and can also recommend, the Lumie Desklamp which I have on next to my computer screens helping me beat the winter blues.
C Campbell, Moray, Scotland
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