If you always feel lethargic and depressed during these gloomy winter months, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This depressive condition is caused by the chemical effects of light deprivation on the brain, which in turn alters the melatonin hormone that controls when we wake and sleep. It also seems to cause problems with our feel-good hormone, seratonin, making our moods slump down further. These days we are more aware of SAD, but it wasn’t officially recognized as an illness until 1987.

With our hectic, modern lives, many of us wake up when it’s dark, spend our days in an artificially lit office, and come home in the dark. This means often failing to see sunlight all day, which is bad news because sunlight stimulates production of the vital nutrient, Vitamin D. No wonder we’re SAD.

Light therapy

Many SAD sufferers feel better after light therapy, which involves exposure to a light box, specially designed to give out a high-intensity bright white light. The light can be up to twenty times brighter than a normal lightbulb and it can be more effective in combating SAD than taking antidepressants.

A vicious circle

Food cravings are commonly associated with the disorder. When we feel tired, depressed, and grumpy, our bodies often want sweet and starchy fixes. And while they make us feel better for a while, the sugar high is quickly followed by a dip, causing mood swings. We then get caught in a vicious circle, craving more sugar, gaining weight, and losing our motivation to exercise.

Diet can help

Eating the right foods can increase your vitamin D levels and balance your blood sugar levels. A good diet will fight depression and anxiety by getting your mood-boosting hormones working again.

Cut out refined sugar – Sweets, biscuits, cakes, white bread, and fizzy drinks.

Instead, eat low GI carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady – Wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice, beans, pulses, sweet potatoes, veg, oily fish, certain fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Eat enough protein – Lean white meat, oily fish, nuts, and eggs.

Cut down on alcohol – Booze is a well known depressant and is packed full of calories.

Reduce your caffeine – Too much caffeine can exacerbate depression and cause sleeplessness.

Exercise – Research shows that exercise releases feel-good endorphins in our brains. These can be as effective at treating mild depression as antidepressants. Aim for 30 – 45 minutes of exercise three to four times per week. Swimming, a brisk walk, cycling, yoga, body-rolling, even dancing around the house, are all good for you.

Spend more time outside – Aim to undertake more activities that increase your exposure to natural light.

Don’t feel SAD this winter!

Sibel XX