Surviving SAD Times
The English winter – ending in July,
To recommence in August.
Lord Byron 1788 – 1824
Anyone affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD syndrome) will know that this depressive disorder seems to be exacerbated by the lack of daylight which we all experience during the winter months. It can feel as if this time of year will never end and Byron’s words are enough to send sufferers scurrying to bed with a hot water bottle, a warm drink and a pile of good books!
There are a wide range of symptoms which include depression, mood swings, irritability, lethargy, cravings for sweet foods and a general feeling of being ‘down in the dumps’. For some people the effect can even stretch throughout the autumn, winter and spring.
The exact cause is not known but lack of sunlight is a likely contributory factor. During the winter months, when the days are shorter, you travel to work in the dark. At lunchtime you don’t fancy leaving the comfort of your warm, artificially-lit office to venture out into the wind and rain, risking taking off ‘Mary Poppins’ style down the road as you wrestle with your umbrella. Then, come evening time, you leave work in the dark. Blink and you can feel like you have missed the day!
Genetics can also play a part – some people are just more prone to feeling blue (you can thank your parents for that!). While some of our friends in the animal kingdom can hibernate during the winter months, regrettably we don’t have that option!
So what can you do?
As ever, diet is one of the first aspects to consider. The obvious things to avoid are stimulants such as tea, coffee and caffeinated drinks as these can put your adrenal glands under stress. (Your adrenal glands are your friends! They help you cope with stress so if they are under stress themselves they won’t be able to help you! Try not to abuse them!) Sugary foods and drinks and refined foods are of limited benefit as they contain very little nutritional value.
Foods to add to your diet are fish (rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids) or, for the vegetarians and vegans amongst you, linseeds. Avocados, beans, bananas, wheat germ, porridge oats, brown rice and wholemeal pasta are foods that help to increase serotonin, the brain chemical that makes you feel happy. Water and non-caffeinated drinks such as herb teas can help to keep you hydrated. (Just as important in the winter as in the summer!)
Vitamin D is an important nutrient to take as levels can drop during the winter months. Most of our vitamin D is produced in the body by the action of sunlight on the skin. (So let’s face it, you aren’t going to get much in a typical British summer, let alone during the winter months!)
Exercise is vital too
As mad as it may sound, going for a bracing walk in wild winter weather can literally ‘blow the cobwebs away’! If the wind is whipping up a storm it will certainly oxygenate you! And exercise produces endorphins – those wonderful chemicals that make you feel good.
Full Spectrum Light Therapy
One interesting therapy is full spectrum light therapy, designed to replicate natural sunlight, which has been used to treat SAD syndrome with good results. As well as light boxes and visors there are also bodyclocks. These work by using your body’s natural response to sunrise and sunset to help synchronise your sleep/wake pattern. Each morning the light comes on very slowly (imitating sunrise) so your body responds to the increased light levels around you, subconsciously, and you wake up feeling refreshed. The lights can be expensive but may be worth a try. Visit www.outsidein.co.uk to learn more about what’s available.
Herbs can help
Nature also has a lot to offer. Hypericum (St John’s Wort) is well known for its mood-lifting properties. 15 drops (0.6ml) of tincture two to three times a day can help you cope with the bleak mid-winter. Start taking it a few weeks before SAD syndrome usually starts to get a grip on you to allow it time to begin working. Remember to check with a healthcare professional before using Hypericum if you are taking prescribed medication.
Passiflora is a wonderful herb that has been described as a ‘hug in a bottle’. Its gentle sedative action on the central nervous system helps to alleviate nervous tension, depression and anxiety. Avena sativa (oats) is a plant rich in the B vitamins that are essential for a healthy nervous system. The Scots, with their long dark winter days, have long counteracted the negative feelings with a plate of porridge each morning! It is a wonderful tonic for the nerves and has a calming and restorative effect.
You can find these two herbs combined in an effective complex. Taking 20 drops twice a day can be a real boon to SAD sufferers.
So you see, you don’t have to feel blue during the winter months. Just try some of these tips and you could be feeling in the pink again!