Some of us are excited and enthusiastic about the first Christmas decorations and first displays or approaching celebrations, while there are also many who are dreading the start of winter due to low moods and debilitating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
If you suffer with this season- related depression, feeling low and lethargic, here’s what you can do to give yourself the best chance for a positive and enjoyable winter ahead.
“Winter Blues” is a real thing and it seems to affect about three times more women than men, especially women between the ages 20 to 40 and generally those living in Northern latitudes.
Understandably, it is very much related to light exposure.
How do I know if I have SAD?
Although many people may complain about low moods and decreased motivation in the cooler months, SAD sufferers experience a range of very particular symptoms, such as persistently feeling sluggish and fatigued, oversleeping, chronically low moods and strong cravings for sugars and carbohydrates.
This in turn can affect motivation to go out, socialise, explore the world and even cope with simple daily tasks. You may be feeling constantly tired and unable to find interest in some of your favourite activities or simply see friends.
If that sounds like you, make sure you get out of your way and prepare for the winter ahead, as it can drastically improve your life quality. Here are a few things you can do to prepare your body and mind for the winter now:
Getting enough sunshine and especially light is crucial to fight off SAD symptoms, as lack of light is one of the more obvious contributing factors towards the onset of symptoms. Ideally, you would be able to go away somewhere sunny in the winter to recharge, top up vitamin D stores and prepare for winter months ahead, although that is not always possible.
You may still benefit from acquiring a light box and immerse in daily light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Evidence shows this to be one of the most effective antidotes to SAD symptoms.
Get a light box with at least 10,000 lux, specifically made for managing SAD, rather than skin complaints. If you are ready to get a light box, make sure you do extensive research to invest in one that’s most suitable for you.
Getting enough sunshine is a challenge during winter months, especially in the Northern latitudes. In some countries, such as the UK and Scandinavia, winter sun isn’t strong enough to help your body make vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient to support mental health and evidence shows vitamin D depletion in people who are depressed.
There is some vitamin D found in eggs and wild mushrooms, however if you live in the Northern latitudes, it is strongly suggested to start taking a quality vitamin D supplement for the winter, starting as early as October or when the skies turn grey.
Get outdoors and exercise
Make sure you soak up the light that is available to you daily. When possible, spend as much time outside in the bright light (or as bright as it gets in the winter), take walks at lunchtime and midday.
Keep moving your body through the colder, darker months as movement and exercise boost endorphins, which are your body’s natural anti-depressants. Ideally move outside when possible- go for a walk, jog or ride a bike.
Evidence shows that omega 3 fatty acids are often depleted in a depressed brain and it’s a great idea to eat at least a couple of portions of oily fish per week, such as SMASH (salmon, mackerel, anchovies,
sardines and herring) and take a pure, good quality fish oil supplement of at least 1g omega 3 daily.
Reduce the booze
Although it may seem like alcohol boosts self-esteem and moods, these effects are short-lived and alcohol depletes your serotonin and dopamine stores as soon as the next day, feeling you even more depleted and low. Aim to limit alcohol if you are already feeling low and make sure you drink plenty of water with it.
Also consider drinking cacao drinks in the cooler months, not just for comfort, but because cacao is abundant in antioxidants and potentially has the ability to improve moods.
Make meals in advance
If your motivation drops during the cooler months of the year, now is a perfect time to get some food preparation done to make sure you have quality meals and nutrition available when you don’t feel like cooking. Consider cooking large batches of meals, possibly using the slow cooker and filling up the freezer.
Eat your greens (yellows and reds)
Although in the winter there is less choice for fresh, local and seasonal produce, don’t fall into the trap of eating less than at least 7 portions of veg per day. What you put in your body everyday has a huge role to play to your mental health and if you don’t give your brain the antioxidants and phytochemicals to keep you well, you will notice the negative effects.
Get out of your way to get in extra veg, whether it’s ordering a side salad, chucking a load of root vegetables in a stew or filling up a wrap with rainbow colour vegetables. You will thank yourself later for it!
Talk to people
If socialising gets really hard in the cooler months, consider booking in some meetups and short trips with your closest friends for the next few months, so you know you have little events to look forward to. Spend less time online and pick up the phone to connect to people. A good idea to join a weekly social group, either it’s a book club, ‘learn a language’ group or a new class.
Take up a new hobby
Keeping your mind active, as well as your body can be extremely helpful in warding of SAD. Keep curious and have a go at something you wanted for a good while. It’s a good time to start that photography course or take up crochet again.