Do you find your mood and energy levels slump as autumn sets in, and continues on through the winter months? Perhaps you just put it down to the winter blues and suffer through it. You’re not alone. This type of depression is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and is not at all uncommon. Let’s take a look at why we feel this way, and a few things we can do to reduce the SAD symptoms.
But why does SAD happen?
- The change in seasons can mess with your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The decrease in sunlight may cause your body’s internal clock to be out of sync with ‘external clocks’ and disrupt the hormones that regulate your appetite and metabolism.
- Your serotonin levels fall. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a ‘feel-good’ brain chemical (neurotransmitter).
- Your melatonin levels increase. When it’s dark, the brain produces the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleep. When it becomes light again, it stops producing melatonin and we wake up. When the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases. It has been found that people with SAD produce much higher levels of melatonin in winter than other people. (This is also what happens to animals when they hibernate).
- Living far from the equator. SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to less sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.
Do I have SAD?
We all experience days where we feel down and unmotivated, but how do you identify if it is something more than simply a run of bad days? Symptoms of SAD can include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Tiredness or low energy
- Having problems with sleeping or oversleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Before turning to your GP for an antidepressant prescription, try implementing some of these alternative mood boosters.
Make your home sunnier
Pull back the curtains, raise the blinds, and if you work from home move your desk near to the window. Lots of natural light in the home can elevate those ‘happy’ hormones.
Vitamin D supplementation
Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common and has long been linked with SAD. Try taking a Vitamin D3 supplement to get an extra boost of this vitamin. Since vitamin D is fat soluble, taking some form of healthy fat with it will help optimise absorption.
Invest in a light box
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you’re exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy simulates natural sunshine and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.
Here’s a two-for-one. Regular physical activity has been found to work even better than antidepressant drugs by boosting that glorious serotonin. Combine your exercise with getting out in nature in the sunshine and feel your mood lift! Even on cloudy days outdoor light can help. Try and get outside for some light exercise every day if you can.
It can be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re not feeling 100%, but if you can manage it try and connect with people you enjoy being around. They can often offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a good laugh, which can leave you feeling miles better.
A morning meditation is a great way to set you up for a good day and can allow you to step outside of those depressive/anxious thoughts. Similarly other mind-body techniques such as tai chi, yoga, music or art therapy can have a really positive impact on your mood and help counteract feelings associated with SAD.
How do I know when to call a doctor?
If your symptoms are beyond feeling a bit down in the dumps, and are causing disruptions in your life, then never hesitate to reach out to a professional. If symptoms occur for days at a time, you notice major shifts in sleeping or eating, you are withdrawing from friends and family, or the activities that usually boost your mood don’t work, then seek help immediately.
Written by Ché Miller
About the author
Ché has always had a passion for hospitality having completed a conjoint Bachelors Degree in International Business and Hospitality Management. She has spent the last 15 years working in the hospitality industry. When this passion led her to working in a premier health retreat in Australia in her twenties, she found the knowledge she gained there inspired her to start living a healthier life.
Now Ché loves to combine her two favourite things, hospitality and wellbeing, by scouring the island for the best nourishing restaurants, products and services. She has been living in Mallorca since early 2017, having moved from her home in New Zealand. She absolutely loves the energy of the island and everything it has to offer.
Ché’s other interests include ashtanga yoga, boxing, reading, writing, and really good coffee.