It is thought that over 2 million people in the UK suffer from an illness called SAD, short for seasonal affective disorder, which can lead to a weakened immune system and in turn other complications.
The clocks have gone back so the nights draw in earlier, meaning longer nights and shorter gloomier days.
As well as being colder with less sun to be seen, this reduction in the amount of natural light we get can profoundly effect our body clocks and mood.
Many people feel down and depressed in this period of the year, since over time the number of people whose jobs are outside in natural light has decreased to about 10% of the population.
This is fine in the summer months as travel to and from work is in daylight but in the shorter winter days it’s not so good.
The opportunity for natural light is decreased so our bodies do not get enough of the hormones that make us feel wide awake.
Modern work practices like shift work have altered our body rhythms and cycles, this in turn has resulted in a rise of light deficiency symptoms.
We feel sluggish with no energy and lethargic due to the body not getting enough sunlight. This in turn leads to altered sleep patterns and maybe a lack of sleep, mood swings and a general feeling of no energy.
If this disruption is ongoing the body clock is changed to the point where the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or winter blues are experienced.
Please note: Always see a doctor for a professional diagnosis of any condition but the general symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are…
A disrupted sleep pattern and an inability to stay awake in the daytime, caused when the hormone melatonin is produced in above normal levels.
Serotonin the hormone that affects the mood and appetite is produced in lower levels this leads to depression and possible weight gain as the craving of carbohydrates and sweet foods can increase.
Feeling anxious and unable to cope with normal routine tasks as well as a disinterest of any physical contact as well as irritability and lethargy are all SAD symptoms.
There are very general symptoms that can be experienced by anyone at anytime but if you see a pattern emerging each year when the clocks go back and the days are shorter and gloomier then you could be suffering from winter blues.
So what can we do to help ourselves before it becomes a bigger problem?
Well the obvious are…
Take regular exercise in daylight. Even a walk in winter sunshine can do us the power of good just wrap up warm and go around midday as this is when the light is brightest. If you can only manage the gym then try to use equipment near the window.
Regular exercise helps to keep the weight regulated especially if you find yourself craving and eating more carbs. When you are indoors keep the blinds and curtains open to make the most of the natural light.
Try yoga to reduce stress levels and help with sleep patterns as well as giving the body a gentle workout.
If at all possible take a holiday to a warmer part of the world, this breaks the normal routine and you escape the cold and duller days for a while.
Keeping a journal and noting down how we feel each day can have a positive effect on your mood and helps you to clear your negative thoughts.
It also makes sure we are keeping to a regular schedule, this helps improve sleep patterns and maintain a regular diet as wanting to over eat is a feeling that people who suffer with seasonal affective disorder can experience.
Take a vitamin D supplement, a study done in 2014 by the Nutrients journal found that by taking vitamin D people suffering from depression experienced an improvement to how they felt.
A study in 2015 in the Journal of Natural Medicines concluded that natural oils added to your bath could help with the symptoms of depression, especially the oil of the poplar tree.
Aromatherapy can influence and control your mood by working on the part of the brain that controls your body clock.
So try adding 6 to 8 drops of an essential oil to your nightly bath or a room diffuser.
Bath bombs are a good option, containing essential oils and easy to use. If you do not like to use oil in the bath, there are numerous designs and fragrances to chose from making them fun as well.
If using an essential oil in a massage the chosen oil must be diluted in a carrier oil before use.
Or indulge yourself and have an aromatherapy massage by a trained therapist.
The floral oils like rose otto, geranium, neroli, jasmine and patchouli can help to fight off sadness and miserable thoughts, giving the user emotional support.
As sleep disruption is a common symptom of SAD try an essential oil to help promote a good nights sleep. The oil that comes to mind is lavender, but make sure you buy True Lavender as it is the best quality available.
Another oil for helping promote a good sleep is chamomile especially Roman Chamomile. Roman Chamomile is an ancient herb that promotes a relaxing, restful sleep and is great for those who need to manage stress as it has sedative properties.
Another oil that has sedative and calming actions is Sweet Marjoram, make sure it is Sweet Marjoram that you purchase though.
These oils lavender, chamomile and sweet marjoram can be mixed together to create an effective sleep blend and to fragrance to preference.
By eating a healthy balanced diet the mood swings can be avoided.
Try to include whole grains and complex carbs like white beans, walnuts, oatmeal, pumpkin and sesame seeds in your diet. You can even have chocolate but the dark 70% cocoa sort.
Eat foods that contain protein as this helps with energy levels, try to include nuts, seeds, pulses, white poultry, seafood and dairy produce like milk, eggs and cheese.
Fruit and vegetables should always be in your daily diet but by including more berries like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Studies have shown that these berries prevent an excess of cortisol being released, which too much of can effect stress levels.
Try reducing the intake of caffeine as too much can suppress serotonin levels and sufferers from SAD need to keep the levels of this hormone up.
As well as eating more complex carbs reduce the amount of simple carbs and sugar as these foods will give you an energy boost for a short time but it drops off just as quick and lowers your energy levels.
So limit the amount of white rice, breads and sugary food & drinks you consume.
There are some excellent recipes to be found that are quick and easy and will help you to include the foods we mention above…
Try this simple but delicious recipe from Minimalist Baker, that uses chickpeas that should help with your mood…
or this tasty recipe from Green Kitchen Stories to include chocolate, pumpkin seeds and peppermint oil, all excellent ingredients for helping with the winter blues.
Another good food for helping with seasonal affective disorder is white beans so try this delicious winter recipe from My New Roots
These suggestions to cope with SAD are meant for anyone who is just down at this gloomy time of year but if you feel you cannot cope at all please see your GP and take medical advise.
Never keep how you are feeling to yourself, remember a trouble shared is a trouble halved, so please do talk to family members or a good friend and if this is not a comfortable option talk to your doctor.
There are light units that can be purchased that simulate sunlight, dawn simulator clocks too that wake you on these dark mornings with a gradual light, that is like a dawn breaking.
These units have shown improvement to people suffering from the symptoms of SAD as the light encourages the brain to make less melatonin but increase the serotonin both these hormones affect you mood and ability to feel awake.
These units are useful but are not seen as a cure as the symptoms generally reoccur the next Autumn / Winter.
Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder? if so what methods do you use to help? did you find the above useful?
Please let us know in the comments below…
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