Seasonal Affective Disorder, referred to as SAD is a form of depression with sub-types including Winter SAD and Summer SAD which often starts to develop between the ages of 18-30 years old. In England, symptoms tend to materialise themselves most severely between November and April. Importantly, SAD can present itself very severely or give a mild case of the ‘winter blues’, therefore it is vital to know the symptoms and how you can give yourself a helping hand to avoid it manifesting.
The exact cause of the SAD is not completely known but it is currently attributed to the reduced exposure to sunlight when the days are shorter in the winter months. This is because the lack of sunlight firstly directly stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which is the control centre for our mood, appetite and sleeping habits. Secondly, the effect on the hypothalamus plays a role in producing and stabilising certain brain chemicals and hormones, as such a lack of natural sunlight causes a reduction in the production of melatonin and serotonin and also negatively effects the body’s circadian rhythm.
Importantly, the main problem with not getting adequate light during the day means that we are not reaching the recommended daily requirement of Vitamin D. Our body synthesises vitamin when in the sunshine as it emits UVB light when it hits our skin. This UBV reacts with deep set cholesterol in our skin to produce firstly pre-vitamin D and consequently active vitamin D (Calcitriol) by the liver and kidneys, which can then be utilised by the body. A poor amount of vitamin D on the body often leads to irregular moods and depressive symptoms. All of our programmes ensure you at getting enough of the essential vitamins and minerals that help to stabilise your mood over the winter season.
Symptoms of SAD to watch out for:
- Low mood and motivation
- Poor interest in being sociable
- An increase or decrease in appetite
- Low libido
- An increase in sleeping
- Cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and sugar
Things to try help alleviate SAD symptoms:
- Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Why not go for a short walk in your lunch break. Alternatively, light therapy also known as phototherapy helps to mimic natural sunlight. We pass around a SAD lamp in the office to make sure we are stimulating enough serotonin to enhance our mood.
- Make your home and work environments as light as airy as possible. In the autumn and winter months it is tempting to make your home cosy, however make sure you are still opening the windows daily and drawing the curtains in the daylight hours to let in as much light as possible.
- Exercise regularly. It is recommended practise moderate aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes 5 x per week. A release of endorphins doing an activity you enjoy can do wonder for improving your mood.
- Manage stress. Practise meditating and stepping away from situations that cause anxiety can help to balance your hormones.
- Eat food that makes you happy:
- Oily Fish: Salmon, tuna and trout are all great sources of vitamin D3 and omega 3. We can only make serotonin with an adequate supply of vitamin D. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates a lot of cognitive functions including mood, decision making, social behaviour and anxiety. Importantly, fish oils help to make serotonin work for efficiently; both EPA and DHA found in fish oils play a critical role in the serotonin pathway.
- Leafy Greens: high in folate to support the functioning of the nervous system. Folate also aids in dopamine production which enhances the positive reward centre of the brain.
- Wholegrains: chose wholegrain options of pasta, rice and bread. They are a rich source of fibre and folate to help stabilise blood glucose levels and combat sugar crashes that can cause mood fluctuations.
- Bananas: an especially rich source of potassium, vitamin B6 and tryptophan, which is in turn is converted in serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin to help facilitate your mood.
- Kefir: Kefir is headline news at the moment for being a great source of probiotics. Probiotics support the healthy bacteria in the gut which can incidentally help to support your mood. These healthy bacteria have the ability to release serotonin and GABA which as we have discussed are vital for mood regulation.
Of course there is only ever so much you can do yourself to prepare. If you feel like you are suffering with a severe case of SAD please do make sure you let your friends and family know and seek out expert professional advice.