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Beating the Winter Blues

Summer, it was nice to have known you, but our meeting was oh so short. And isn’t it always? Though 2013 was one of the hottest summers since 2006, the sun has officially turned itself off and gone away for the winter. The days have become colder, darker and shorter and even though we did get an extra hour in bed on 27 October (silver linings…) the onset of winter (along with the joy of allowing us to break out last year’s Christmas jumpers) also happens to be a big mood changer, with over half a million people in the UK suffering from low mood in the winter months alone. Psychologists refer to this as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

So, what is Seasonal Affective Disorder I hear you ask? Well, since you’re asking, I’ll tell you. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as it is more commonly known (quite apt considering it can cause low mood), is a well-documented type of recurring depression that returns around the same time each year, and is usually most prevalent in the UK during the winter months of December, January and February.

Though traditionally seen as a female affliction, more and more men are starting to acknowledge the effects brought on by the change in daylight hours. Lack of sunlight and an increased exposure to darkness cause the brain to release more melatonin, a sleep related hormone that has been linked to the symptoms of depression. This has been highlighted as a crucial factor in the development of SAD. Men that suffer from SAD react more severely than women to the lack of light and its resulting impact on their natural body clock. Light sends messages to the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity. Without enough light, many of these brain functions can slow down or even stop (much like when watching an episode of TOWIE). Often, as soon as British wintertime kicks in, sufferers will start to experience a range of symptoms. These can include: lack of energy, greater vulnerability to illness, sleep problems, changes in mood (such as irritability and abusive behaviour), poor concentration, overeating, and loss of interest in physical contact or sex, all of which can lead to us feeling pretty crappy.  Many of these symptoms are similar to those of depression, and from time to time the symptoms can be confused.

But help is at hand! Self-treatment of the symptoms of SAD has often been the most effective option to see people through until spring. Here are a few helpful tips to combat the affects of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  1. One of the most effective treatments for SAD is getting more exposure to light. Getting outside in natural daylight for 30 minutes each day is the best option, but the use of artificial light boxes has also had particularly positive results for many sufferers (note – bearing in mind the above TOWIE reference, sun beds do not count, no matter how happy Joey Essex seems).
  2. Keep active! Exercise has been shown to be just as effective in combating the symptoms of SAD as light therapy because it allows your body to take in more oxygen. Though you might not relish the thought of kicking a football around with your mates in the freezing cold, you could always join an indoor league for the winter.
  3. A few simple changes in diet to increase your levels of vitamin D can also work wonders! Up your intake of oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines) and remember that eggs are a particularly good course of this important vitamin. If these foods aren’t your thing, you can always take a daily supplement.
  4. Keep your mind active. It often helps to take up a new hobby during the winter months as it gives your something to look forward to. You might even discover a hidden talent!
  5. Socialise. Although the cold, dark winter months may make you want to hibernate, socialising will lift your spirits. And no, Facebooking your friends doesn’t count! We’re talking hanging out with your mates and having a laugh – face to face.

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