It's that time of the year: We wake up in the morning, look out of the window and we feel subdued by the sight of malted trees, and smoky grey skies; and the chill in the air makes us want to retreat back under the quilt. With depleting levels of daylight and hospitable warmth comes depleting energy levels, and we may struggle to maintain our busy lives, so we may feel more prone to sadness and depression.
Winter blues (or SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder) is common, and most of us suffer with this to varying degrees.
Symptoms of SAD:
Mood symptoms. Feelings of despair, hopelessness, sadness, anger, irritation, anxiety and stress
Functional changes. Decreased interest in hobbies, disrupted sleep pattern, difficulty concentrating
Physical symptoms. Unexplained aches and pains, fatigue, changes in appetite
Causes of SAD:
It is widely believed that the decreasing exposure to sunlight in winter has an impact on the way the body functions in the following ways:
Vitamin D Deficit. Research states that vitamin D helps to regulate mood; and the body generates this naturally when exposed to sunlight. So, a shortage in vitamin D can make you more prone to depression.
Serotonin Deficit. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps to regulate mood. Lower exposure to sunlight can decrease the body's generation of serotonin, and this can lead to depression, dis-regulate anxiety levels and disrupt your sleep pattern
Production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone which helps to regulate sleep patterns. Exposure to sunlight inhibits melatonin production, which enables you to feel energised. During the winter, more melatonin is released into the system, and this makes you feel tired and sluggish.
There are ways to look after yourself, and make the symptoms less severe during the harsh winter months:
Get outdoors. This may be easier said than done when it doesn't look inviting outside. But research states that going for a short walk every day is beneficial to the mind and body. After the initial steps of exercising have been taken, your energy levels gather momentum, and you will start to feel more inclined to exercise more, and you will feel more refreshed and less sluggish.
Take vitamin D. If your diet isn't rich in vitamin D (this is more likely if you have a vegan diet), then it may be worth taking a vitamin D supplement for the winter months.
Use a lightbox. A light box is made with fluorescent lights to replace the daylight you will miss in winter. A light box should be used soon after waking up (it's best to avoid using it too late in the day, as it may disrupt your sleep pattern), and it involves sitting in front of it for half an hour per day at times of the year when you feel low.
Get as much indoor daylight. Just making a slight adjustment to your life indoors can help, e.g. spend some more time in well-lit rooms, make sure your desk is pointing towards the window,
Seek help from a counsellor. If you still find that you feel low, your problem may run deeper, and you may need to talk to someone about recent events and how you feel. Sometimes we tend to carry the weight of unresolved feelings in relation to events, and this can make us feel sluggish and depressed. Having the space to explore what has been going on for you can help unearth difficult feelings, and you may feel happier and more energised.