For many of us, winter really is the season to be jolly. Setting aside Christmas and the magical, warm-fuzzy feelings it engenders, we romanticise this time of year, revelling in its various charms – the glistening snow, the joyful, red-cheeked carollers. The thought of curling up by the fire on a cold, dark night, clad in woollen socks and nursing a piping-hot cocoa, epitomises the very concept of comfort. Of course, not all of us feel the same.
Though there are many gleeful winter enthusiasts, spring can’t come quick enough for others. And we’re not just referring to the Scrooge-like curmudgeons who curse the busyness of shops in December, wagging their index fingers and irately muttering ‘Bah humbug!’
Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Clue's in the Acronym
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is brought about by the dwindling daylight hours of winter, and symptoms generally begin in autumn, months before the first Christmas lights have been strung. As the days start to shorten, and the cold snap kicks in, SAD can seize sufferers in a vice-like grip, triggering mood swings and feelings of lethargy and despair. According to the British Medical Journal, 6% of UK adults suffer with the disorder.
If the prospect of tearing open presents on Christmas morning makes you positively giddy, you might find it hard to take SAD seriously. However, a recent study in Holland appears to reinforce the disorder’s seriousness. In it, researchers found that the number of people in psychiatric hospitals diagnosed with depression actually rises after the clocks go back.
How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
It is thought that January and February are the worst months of the year for those battling seasonal affective disorder. And even if you’ve previously been immune to the winter blues, that’s no guarantee you’re in the clear. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the average age when the disorder first strikes is 27 – though it can happen later.
The pertinent question to ask, therefore, is this: what can you do ahead of New Year to make sure you stay in a positive frame of mind? We’ve compiled a list of possible solutions below; if SAD is getting you down, try them out and let us know how you get on.
Books have been written about the positive physiological and neurological effects of exercise, and making sure you work out during winter will go some way towards lifting your spirits. That’s because physical activity releases endorphins and serotonin in the brain, thereby regulating hormonal imbalance and reducing stress. It’s not easy motivating oneself to hit the gym when it's already pitch-black at 6pm, but breaking a sweat could work wonders for your mood.
Get More Sunlight
Exposing yourself to natural sunlight requires a conscious effort, but it's definitely worthwhile. At lunchtime, flee the office and go for a walk; the natural light will likely be diffused by a welter of clouds, but it’s better than sitting in front of your monitor. And for most of us who work 9-5, it’s likely our only opportunity to get some sun on our faces during the day.
Diet and Supplements
Christmas excesses are one thing, but grubbing on the wrong foods throughout the whole season is playing into the hands of SAD. Processed or high-carb foods leave you feeling bloated and sapped of energy, so be sure to follow a healthy, balanced diet replete with energy-boosting, high-fibre fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins.
Making sure you eat enough omega-3 fatty acids is another strategy, as they have been found to produce dopamine and serotonin, both of which can combat depression. Vitamin D – the Sunshine Vitamin – is another unmissable nutrient, whether you absorb it via food (milk, fish, egg yolks) or a supplement.
Consider a Light Box
According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, investing in a light box could be the answer. Light boxes essentially simulate sunshine, with both white- and blue-light products available, and they are said to be effective in restoring your natural circadian rhythms.
Hopefully these tips serve you well during the sun-starved winter months – though in the case of the first three, you’d be well served following them throughout the year. With any luck, you'll see out 2016 with a smile on your face.