Winter can be tough, tips for taking care of your wellbeing

“Hi there! As a therapist, I often talk to people who feel down during the darker winter months. This is a common experience known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it’s something we should all be aware of, especially when the days get shorter.

So, what is SAD exactly? Well, it’s a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, often starting in the winter when there’s less sunlight. It’s more common in countries where there’s a significant change in climate and daylight hours during different seasons. Some people call it ‘Winter Depression’ or ‘Winter Blues’ (Royal College of Psychiatrists)​​.

The main symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression, but they mainly happen in the winter. You might feel a low mood and lack interest and enjoyment in life. Other common signs include feeling less sociable, irritable, and experiencing a decreased interest in sex. Unlike most forms of depression, SAD often involves sleeping more, eating more, and craving foods high in carbohydrates. It’s interesting to note that SAD is about three times more common in women, particularly during their childbearing years, than in men (Royal College of Psychiatrists)​​.

Why does SAD happen? While the exact causes aren’t fully understood, the reduced amount of light in winter plays a significant role. There’s been a lot of research exploring how daylight influences our appetite, wakefulness, and mood (Royal College of Psychiatrists)​​.

When it comes to treatment, NICE guidelines suggest that SAD should be treated like other types of depression, with options including self-help, lifestyle changes, talking therapies, and medication. Light box treatments are also popular for SAD and have shown some effectiveness (Mind)​​(Royal College of Psychiatrists)​​.

So, what can you do if you’re feeling the effects of SAD?

  1. Maximize Natural Light: Rearrange your workspace or living areas to be near windows and receive as much natural light as possible.
  2. Regular Exercise: Stay active with regular exercise, which can boost your mood. Outdoor activities like walking, jogging, or cycling during daylight hours are particularly beneficial.
  3. Healthy Diet: Maintain a well-balanced diet. SAD can increase cravings for carbohydrates; focus on complex carbs and include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Create a Routine: Stick to a regular routine, including consistent sleep and wake times. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock.
  5. Social Interaction: Stay connected with friends and family, even if it’s through phone or video calls. Social support is vital.
  6. Mindfulness and Relaxation: Practices like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress and improve mood.
  7. Aromatherapy: Some find that certain scents, like citrus or lavender, can uplift their mood.
  8. Vitamin D Supplements: Consider taking vitamin D supplements, especially if you live in areas with limited winter sunlight.
  9. Decorate with Bright Colors: Adding bright colors to your living space can create a more cheerful environment.
  10. Professional Help: If your symptoms are severe, consider talking to a mental health professional who can provide additional strategies and support.

Lastly, light therapy is a practical approach. Using a light box that emits bright light (similar to sunlight but without harmful UV rays) can make a big difference. It’s usually most helpful if used in the morning for about 30 minutes to an hour each day (Royal College of Psychiatrists)​​.

Remember, these tips are general suggestions and may not work for everyone. It’s important to find what works best for you and to seek professional advice if your symptoms are significantly impacting your daily life.