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SAD winter blues man at window

The days are getting shorter, and that means Seasonal Affective Disorder is on the rise. Here, I’ll take you through what this common condition is, and the best ways to alleviate its symptoms.


Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately shortened to “SAD”, has many symptoms in common with depression, including low moods, a lack of energy, changes in appetite, and sleep problems such as sleeping for too long, and having trouble waking up in the morning. Think of it as something like your brain telling you that it’s time to hibernate. Delightful, eh?


These symptoms are thought to be a result of the reduced hours of daylight experienced in the winter months. Basically, the less sunlight you get at this time of year, the worse you can be hit by SAD. Up here at TrueVit HQ in Glasgow, with what seems like mere minutes of sunlight each day, it can be brutal.


The main theories at play here are that the lack of sunlight affects the brain in a few vital ways: first, by lowering the production of serotonin, the hormone that affects moods and appetite; secondly, by increasing the production of melatonin, the hormone that aids sleep; and thirdly, by disrupting your body’s circadian rhythms, with lower light levels confusing your body’s internal clock and disrupting sleep cycles.


So what can you do to lessen the effects of SAD? Aside from living a wildly impractical lifestyle of migrating hemispheres with the seasons to experience a yearlong summer (as is a reoccurring fantasy of mine at this time of year), there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure you’re hit less hard by long, brutal winters.

 

Winter Sunlight

 

Natural daylight: This one is obvious, but take advantage of those few, precious hours of sunlight each day. Keep the curtains open to let as much daylight as possible into your home, and try to get outdoors during the day to try to get as much light as you can. Taking a walk during your lunch break, weather permitting, of course, can be great for helping your natural light intake. It’s also good exercise, and the fresh air serves as a quick energy boost too.


Vitamins: Vitamin D3 is the main ingredient at play here – this vitamin is produced in the skin through exposure to sunlight, and the lack of good daylight hours in the winter can lead to a deficiency. It’s used in the body in producing healthy bones and teeth, as well as boosting the immune system (very important, now we’re in cold and flu season!). Daily supplements of Vitamin D3 can make sure you’re getting enough to stay healthy, especially when your body can’t produce enough from sun exposure.

 

SAD lamp

 

SAD lamps: Fake it ‘til you make it! If there’s not enough natural sunlight, SAD lamps can be the next best thing. These lamps, also known as light boxes, emit light that mimics the effects of natural sunlight on the brain. Light therapy involving exposure to these lamps is often suggested by GPs as a method of lessening the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. These lamps are widely available and make a good investment for the dark winter months. Plug one in for a short time each day to trick your brain into thinking the days are longer than they are!


As always, speak to your doctor for help with treating low moods and depression. In certain cases, they may also recommend antidepressants, which can help the brain regulate its serotonin levels when the lack of sunlight throws them out of balance. Ask your doctor for advice, experiment, and see what works best for you!

December 06, 2018 — Eleni Mills

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