Now the clocks have changed there's no denying winter is on it's way. With the cold weather and the shorter days, people can often suffer from the 'winter blues'.
For some people this can be a real issue and the technical term is Season Affective Disorder (SAD). It is recognised as a type of depression.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 15 people in the UK are affected by SAD between the months of September and April. It can cause symptoms such as increased anxiety, low mood, lack of enjoyment in regular activities, fatigue and feelings of isolation. It's not really understood what causes SAD but it is thought the change in seasons may affect your body clock. It may also be as a result of a change in chemicals in the brain. During daylight your brain releases serotonin – a chemical that makes you feel positive, happy and motivated. So, it makes sense that during the winter, when there is less natural sunlight, your brain releases less of this chemical which could have an impact on mood.
Unless you're planning on moving abroad for the winter months then it's important to find some strategies to try and help deal with SAD. Some of the most effective methods are:
1. Exercise regularly - it might feel like it's the last thing you want to do but as well as the obvious health benefits, exercise releases endorphins which improve your mood and energy levels. Exercise also helps circulation and improves lymphatic flow, which can help you feel less lethargic.
2. Get as much natural light as possible - if the sun is shining, even it it's chilly, get out and enjoy the fresh air. Combine it with a walk or some gardening and you've killed two birds with one stone! If you're indoors let as much light in as possible and sit near the windows where possible.
3. Eat a healthy balanced diet - it can be tempting to turn to comfort food in a bid to cheer yourself up but this can be counterproductive, making you feel more sluggish and tired. A good balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre is even more important if you're feeling low. It also helps ward off those winter colds.
4. Plan a Trip - although I joked about moving abroad, if you suffer during the winter months then some winter sun might be just what you need. Could you take your holiday in the winter rather than the summer to try and give you a lift during the winter months? It also gives you something to look forward to in the run up to your trip.
5. Make Social Plans - you may feel like you want to hibernate and dread the thought of social interaction but actually getting out of the house and having fun is really important. You may find that once you get there you really enjoy yourself and even if you can't face anything too energetic something simple like grabbing a coffee with a friend can help improve your mood.
6. Ensure you have some 'Me Time' - make time for things that make you feel good, whether it's escaping with a good book, listening to music or treating yourself to a massage. Self-care is important for everyone but even more so when you're feeling lower than usual.
Interestingly, massage can actually increase your immune system, which in turns helps your body fight off sickness. So it's even more beneficial in the winter months when the cold and flu germs are out in force!
7. Get your Vitamin D - I keep banging on about this at the moment! In this country we aren’t able to synthesise sufficient Vitamin D from sunshine during the winter months. While we can get some Vitamin D from our diet, it’s likely that it won’t be enough, particularly for those who are vegetarian or vegan. The NHS recommendation is therefore a supplement of 10mcg/400iu for adults and children over the age of 5. Vitamin D deficiency can have similar symptoms to SAD so it's worth checking your levels, if you're really low you may need a higher dose initially to get you back into the normal range.
If you've tried these things and you're still struggling then don't worry, there are still other strategies available. Have a chat with your GP, they may suggest light box therapy, that you see a counsellor or they may prescribe anti-depressants. You don't have to suffer in silence.