It can be a challenge for anyone to stay chipper when it’s dark by 5pm, the cold wind is biting and the sun has failed to break through the cloud all day. However, for around two million people in the UK winter is a time when they just can’t shake the gloom. If this is you, you may need help with the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Contrary to what some may think, SAD is a serious condition. It is a type of depression, often called the winter blues. According to data analysts at wellbeing website stressnomore.co.uk there were just over 22,000 Google searches for SAD last month – a huge increase from almost 4,500 in August.
The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) says persistent low mood, lack of interest in daily activities and feelings of guilt, despair and worthlessness can be signs of SAD. Other symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, overeating, low libido and general lethargy.
The culprit for all this is the sudden lack of sunlight. ‘Our circadian rhythms have difficulty making the transition to winter’s different daylight schedule of shorter days and less sunlight. This causes a so-called stagnation of our body clock, resulting in a jet-lag effect and a variety of winter-blues symptoms,’ says Emilia Herting, a Chinese medicine practitioner and founder of escapadahealth.com, which offers seasonal health tune-ups.
According to SADA, light therapy helps in 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. This means exposure for up to four hours a day to a SAD lamp – a very bright light that works by mimicking the daylight we lack. The strength of the light is key – it needs to be a minimum of 2,500 lux (average domestic lighting is 200-500 lux while a bright summer day can be 100,000 lux). The Beurer TL 30 Ultra Portable Daylight SAD Light (£51.99, johnlewis.com) has 10,000 lux and is compact so it can be taken with you when travelling.
Aside from lamps, here are some other ways to supercharge your spirits…
Try some me time
Emilia Herting suggests setting time aside every morning for things such as meditating, journaling, yoga or breath-work to name a few. ‘This will make you the creator of your day and stop the feeling that the world, with all its negative events, rules how you feel,’ she says.
Up your nourishment know-how
‘Food can have a profound impact in helping our mood,’ says nutritionist Nicola Moore (nicola-moore.com). The big hitters are omega-3 essential fatty acids found in oily fish and foods such as meat, nuts, seeds, eggs, lentils, beans and tofu.’ She also advises eating plenty of vegetables and salad: ‘They are anti-inflammatory and some studies have correlated chronic inflammation with low mood and depression. In addition, fibres from plant foods support a diverse microbiome, which plays a role in emotional wellbeing.’
Get that mood moving
Exercise is incredibly important in maintaining strength, mobility and our immune system. It also increases dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter that helps to stabilise mood. Emilia suggests creating a daily exercise routine based around when it’s light outside. ‘A vigorous 20-minute walk in the sunlight can make all the difference,’ she says.
If you take one supplement…
Make it vitamin D. ‘I recommend getting your minerals and vitamins from foods,’ says Emilia. ‘The exception is vitamin D, which we obtain mainly through sunlight on our skin. From early October to early April, a daily supplement containing 10mcg helps. If you are vegan, choose a supplement containing vitamin D2 as D3 can be derived from animal sources.’
A clean mat? No sweat
Keep your workout mat fresh and fragrant with the Yoga Mat Cleaning Pschitt! (from £12.75, monoskincare.com). It contains enzymes that break down stains, body oil and sweat. The fresh minty eucalyptus fragrance is also a winner for spritzing stinky shoes or gym bags.
Breathe away your worries
The world still feels pretty intense and anxiety levels remain at an all-time high. To help alleviate this Alexandra Baldi, a yoga teacher and founder of compasschelsea.com, recommends the ‘4-7-8 breathing’ technique. ‘Breathe in through your nose for four counts, hold for seven counts then exhale slowly through the mouth for eight counts. This helps the body to enter into a parasympathetic [rest and digest] state, thereby easing anxiety and decreasing worry levels,’ she says.