More than just the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder affects 15 million people (three-fourths of them women) and can present symptoms such as weight gain, a low libido and fatigue. If this sounds familiar, here are a few easy ways you can keep your spirits up
See the light
Using a light box could be key to beating the winter blues. “Bright light has been demonstrated to have a positive effect on our levels of alertness, mood, wellbeing and sleep patterns,” says Dr Victoria Revell, a chronobiologist at the University of Surrey. “We know that a strong light signal at dawn and dusk is important for keeping our body clock on track, particularly in the winter months, as it provides a clear transition between day and night.”
On those crisp and sunny winter days (they do happen occasionally), what better way to enjoy it than to get out there? According to Sue Pavlovich of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA), venturing out for at least 10 minutes a day will boost those serotonin and dopamine levels which play a starring role in your happiness. Clouding over? No problem, the light will still stimulate our brain and give us the same effect.
Get more B vits
“B vitamins are essential for the health of the nervous system, and can aid in regulating mood cycles,” explains Dr Michael Barnish, UK medical director at Reviv Global (revivme.com). “These fantastic vitamins can help to give a natural boost to the nervous system and mood and sleep patterns, helping to soften the impact of the January blues. Supplementing with a B complex is a great way to boost your levels. They’re great for a natural energy boost, too.” Ro Huntriss, dietician for the Terri-Ann 123 Diet Plan (terriann123dietplan.co.uk) agrees, adding that flaxseed is a good source of thiamine, or vitamin B1. “Thiamine is thought to play a role in mood regulation, so including foods such as flaxseed in your diet could help to balance your mood. Other good sources include wholegrain bread, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs and peas.”
Break into a sweat
OK, we know that hitting the gym is the last thing you feel like doing in winter but scheduling it into your routine can make the biggest difference in your joy factor. A study from Duke University Medical Centre found that just 25 minutes of light exercise such as walking or yoga class can be as effective in improving your mood as daily light therapy. In fact, one study found that mildly depressed people who walked briskly three times a week for four months saw their symptoms ebb. If you’re in need of some inspiration, turn to page 69 for all our top walking advice, including the kit you need to stay safe on those winter walks.
Try for tryptophan
“Tryptophan is an important amino acid for combating mood and depression,” claims Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women (£15.98, amazon.co.uk). “Your body makes serotonin (the feel-good brain chemical) from tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, fish, bananas, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts.” Add these foods to your diet for an instant mood boost.
Take a nap
“Feeling lethargic during the day is a common symptom of SAD,” explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert for Silentnight (silentnight.co.uk). “Learning how to power nap is a great way of beating this. Naps should be between 10 and 20 minutes long and it’s a good idea to take one when you start to feel sleepy or find yourself losing concentration. Many people have a natural dip in energy levels at around 3pm, making this the ideal time for catching up on some shuteye.” Turn to page 123 for our top sleep tips.
Up your vitamin D intake
“Vitamin D is a super-vitamin and we get great doses of it from exposure to sunlight,” says Dr Barnish. “The UV rays hit our skin and convert a precursor of vitamin D into the vitamin – this is why vitamin D levels fall during the winter. This vitamin is essential for immunity, brain function, bone health and can banish those general aches and pains that occur during the dark months. Plus, due to its action on brain function, it can lift mood and help ease the winter blues. However, during the winter, most people in the UK will have lower levels. We should all, therefore, consider supplementing with this amazing vitamin to keep our bodies working optimally. Always take it following a meal for the best absorption.”