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SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a subtype of major depression, sometimes referred to as the ‘winter blues’. SAD is believed to affect more than 2 million people in the UK alone, but what is it about the winter months that has such an impact on our wellbeing? In this blog, we’ll be exploring how the winter season can affect our mental well being and how we can learn to mitigate the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder on our lives.
The winter months are darker and colder, therefore affecting our body clocks and encouraging us to spend more time indoors, but this isn’t the only thing that can impact our mental health at this time of year. Having to keep the heating on in your home can cause anxieties around finances, icy roads can be hazardous and impact our routines, and the Christmas period can be stressful. While winter can sometimes be seen (and is often marketed) as an exciting, festive season, for many people it can be quite a different experience and can have a serious impact on well being.
While SAD can take hold at any time of year, it is more common during the winter. So, what is it about the shorter days and bad weather that impacts our mental health to such an extent? One theory is lack of sunlight; our bodies need sunlight, and there is simply less of it in winter. Sunlight is used by the body to regulate mood, appetite and sleep, and the seasonal lack of it can have an effect on many of us.
Some health benefits of sunlight include:
Since sunlight plays such an important role in keeping us feeling happy, healthy and well rested, it’s no surprise that a lot of us can feel lower during the winter months. People who already struggle with a form of depression may find the seasonal shift to have an even greater impact, and research has shown that those who have family members facing similar difficulties, such as depression, are more likely to experience SAD.
If you are diagnosed with SAD or suspect that you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, Psymplicity Healthcare is here to help. If you don’t feel ready to seek professional support, here are some expert tips you can try at home to help improve your wellbeing in winter.
We’ve covered the importance of Vitamin D, but ensuring you are including plenty of other vitamins and minerals in your diet is key to ensuring your body is functioning to the best of its ability. Some may find it helpful to take supplements, particularly during the winter months. Whether you do this or make some simple changes in your diet, an increased and more varied vitamin intake will be sure to have a positive impact. Try consuming more leafy greens, squashes and other vegetables as well as grains and proteins – more information about nutrient-rich foods can be found here.
Having SAD, or the winter blues, is not uncommon, and although it’s understandable that you want to push away negative thoughts and emotions due to their distressing nature, this can often perpetuate the problem. Try to be kind to yourself, acknowledge your struggle and ask yourself what you need to help yourself manage better. Try to prepare for difficult times or days when you may feel lethargic by preparing meals, setting aside some relaxation time or scheduling something else to look forward to like meeting up with a friend. You know your body and mind best, so whether looking after yourself involves being more sociable or spending more time alone, trying new activities or sticking to your favourite hobbies, ensuring you do more or what you love is sure to help get you through the winter season.
During the winter time it can be tempting to wrap up indoors and relax by a fire, but the reality is that exercise is just as important at this time or year as it is in summer. Whether you keep moving by scheduling time for a short walk each day, doing a gentle online yoga class or trying a new local sports club, keeping your body moving can improve your blood circulation and of course benefit your overall mood by releasing endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that interact with your brain’s receptors, reducing your perception of pain and triggering a positive feeling in the body.
A professional may recommend trying a sunlamp (also referred to as ‘light therapy’) but you can take this step at home as long as you are happy to consult with a doctor first, for your own safety (you will need to be sure you are not risking harm to your skin when using sunlamps). A sunlamp works by imitating sunlight, and there is evidence to suggest that these lamps do provide the body with similar benefits. Some sunlamps will not emit the UV rays needed for Vitamin D production, as this can lead to skin damage, but it is important to check before purchasing. Also note that sunlamps may not be suitable for everyone – those with light sensitivity or eye conditions should try to avoid using sunlight alternatives.
Any light exposure is helpful, so even if you don’t have summer’s blue skies to enjoy, try spending a small amount of time outside each day to help your body benefit from the natural light.
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