How to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Winter and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) often go hand in hand, particularly when darker days start rolling in. And with shorter days too, there is a much smaller window of opportunity to get outdoor. So, it’s not surprising that many of us start feeling down in the dumps. For some, Summer Lockdown 1.0 probably seemed a walk in the park compared to Winter Lockdown 3.0.
SAD is a form of depression that typically occurs in the latter part of the year. It is thought that the downward shift in light exposure triggers the symptoms. Less sunshine means less production of serotonin, our happy hormone. Throw in some extra melatonin, the sleep hormone, because are bodies are going into a hibernation of sorts, and you might start to feel a lot more lethargic too.
There are several ways in which we can naturally combat the effects of SAD:
NATURAL LIGHT EXPOSURE
Light exposure stimulates the natural energy responses and balances the circadian rhythm, and it’s a crucial element in the battle against SAD. Aim to get outside and get at least ten minutes of power-boosting light. Just make sure you leave the sunglasses at home.
And if you’re feeling sluggish mid-afternoon, go for a brisk walk around the block, but remember not to leave it too late when the sun starts to set. If you’re trapped at home, sit by the window. Or, go into a room with plenty of natural light, and sit and bathe in the light for an hour.
Sunlight is a great way to get your daily dose of essential Vitamin D. It’s no surprise that people often need to take supplements during the winter months in order to top up their levels. It is thought that low levels of Vitamin D might be one of the triggers of SAD. This essential vitamin is important as it helps fight fatigue and low mood.
You could opt for a daily vitamin D supplement, but it is always recommended that you work with a practitioner before taking supplements. The UK Recommended Daily Intake for Vitamin D is 10mcg/ 400 IU. Our advice is to get tested for your vitamin D levels first.
My favourite vitamin D is BetterYou’s Vitamin D Spray.
The NHS recommends 75 minutes of high intensity exercise or 150 minutes of moderate movement a week. Exercise releases the mother of all hormones, serotonin, which will increase your levels of happy and hopefully keep the sad at bay. For double points, combine your exercise with some fresh air and natural light. Go for a jog, a cycle or go for a walk in the park.
A recent double-blind randomized controlled study (1) found that light therapy was just as effective as a common SSRI drug at improving symptoms of SAD in patients. That’s why we sometimes recommend buying a therapy lightbox. These are thought to help ease the symptoms of SAD by replacing natural light exposure and increasing the levels of both melatonin and serotonin. Make sure you sit about 1 metre away from the lightbox in order to maintain safe distance from the glare.
Lam RW, Levitt AJ, Levitan RD, Enns MW, Morehouse R, Michalak EE, Tam EM. The Can-SAD study: a randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of light therapy and fluoxetine in patients with winter seasonal affective disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 May;163(5):805-12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16648320/