For many people, winter can be unpleasant at the best of times. A large number of people experience long periods of lower moods during winter months, often known as the ‘winter blues’. If you suffer from the more severe form called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is essentially seasonal depression, this is even more pronounced. People with SAD often find it hard to get the motivation to do anything or have the capacity for close emotional ties, beginning as early as September and continuing until March or April.
Winter in the city – Photograph by vintagedept
This is most likely due to lower levels of light during these months, although theories abound as to exactly why this should be the case and how it works. Thankfully, there are some proven things you can do to help yourself, friends or family who experience some or all of these symptoms.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Some people, particularly those who suffer from SAD, find that using a specially designed light box for an hour or two a day can improve their mood, as standard lamps do not produce enough light to improve your mood. Even stronger versions also exist, which reduce the amount of time needed for treatment each day. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting this type of treatment, and schedule annual eye tests.
These ‘SAD lamps’ are falling in price and can be found from around £50 for a new one. Please note, these are designed to reduce UV output – tanning lamps or similar products are not safe replacements.
Another possible way to deal with this is to take a winter break to somewhere within 30 degrees of the equator. Be aware, however, as mental health charity Mind point out, that this can in fact cause a worsening of symptoms upon return for some people. Make sure to consult a professional before trying this.
Forest running in the winter – Photograph by kirybabe
Exercise also helps a lot, so taking a walk in the winter daylight can also be a good way to lift your spirits. Walking for an hour a day can help you a lot, especially if it’s done in natural areas. Some studies have suggested that it could be as effective as using a light box in combating seasonal depression.
Strenuous exercise can also boost your mood, as chemicals are naturally produced in your body which give you the ‘runner’s high’. At least thirty minutes strenuous exercise a day is recommended. Finding the motivation for beginning an exercise routine can be difficult once the winter is in full flow, and next to impossible for those who experience particularly severe symptoms. It is best to try and build a routine over the summer, making it easier to carry on in the subsequent months.
You Are What You Eat – Depression and Diet
Diet is also very important for countering low moods in winter. Depression and diet are linked – it can be easy when you are feeling down to eat ‘comfort foods’, such as chocolate and food high in carbohydrates, or to drink alcohol to the same end. But a well-planned, balanced diet is always better in the long run. There are some foods and eating habits which can improve your mood or help you to relax, contributing to your well-being. These are the principles we use when constructing a diet plan for our range of gourmet diet delivery dishes.
Eating a good breakfast has been shown to have a positive effect on your daily mood. We recommend a breakfast which includes fresh fruit, granola muesli and fresh live natural yoghurt. In particular, we suggest a granola which contains pumpkin and sunflower seeds, as well as linseeds, as these include a number of essential fats.
Anchovies – an oily fish – with red pepper – Photograph by Annie Mole
These fats are needed for improved brain performance, and so provide benefits to your state of mind. Raw nuts and seeds provide some of these, as do various types of fish. Oily fish is an especially good source of many omega-3 fats, which are often lacking in diets in the western world, which instead contain an abundance of omega-6.
Eating regularly is also beneficial to relieving stress and maintaining a consistent mood, as this helps to balance your blood sugar levels. A combination of complex carbohydrates and proteins is a good way to achieve this. Proteins will help to balance your blood sugar levels, whilst complex carbohydrates can provide you with a stable supply of energy, reducing stress levels.
Another possibility is to try and increase your intake of B vitamins. These are likely to help with your mood, as it has been proposed that B vitamin deficiency is linked to depression. Vitamin B12 is especially associated with these effects. Raw almonds, pistachios and walnuts, salmon, scallops or prawns are all delicious ways to increase the amount of B vitamins in your diet.
Finally, try to eat foods that contain potassium, which is an electrolyte. This can help to lower your blood pressure, reducing stress. Bananas are a good source of potassium, as are avocados and pulses.
Of course, no single one of these approaches is a panacea for seasonal depression. A combination of a good diet, regular exercise and as much strong light as possible, as well as a sympathetic attitude from friends and family, are the best ways to try and make things easier for sufferers of SAD or the ‘winter blues’. Always try and ensure that you seek professional help, or encourage others to do so, if symptoms are severe.
If you or someone you know suffers from SAD, or you suspect that this may be the case, please take a look at the information provided by mental health charity Mind. They provide advice for both sufferers and their family and friends, based on the latest research on the subject.
The NHS also has a number of useful resources.
Have you got any good advice for helping combat the effects of seasonal depression? Leave us a comment and let us know.