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Don't be SAD. The guide to overcoming SAD and beating the winter blues

This year, while we've all been restricted in terms of our travel, experiencing some fairly average weather as we've moved through Spring and summer. At the beginning of the lockdown, the weather was fabulous, easing our situation quite a lot, but as the year's panned out we've also had our rainy dips plus a late sunny flourish in September. However, as I'm writing this, the autumnal weather seems to be settling in underpinned with a drop in temperature and a damper school drop off.

As the season changes, the leaves turn golden and the autumn sun lies low, slowly heading towards winter and our thoughts begin to focus on darker nights and reaching for the scarves and gloves. And as the Prime Minister imposes further restrictions to our movements and worries of a second spike in the pandemic abound, spare a thought for the one-in-three of us in the UK that suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or it’s less intense relative – the winter blues.

SAD has been recognised and included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition as a major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, and many clinicians are familiar with the symptoms. In fact SAD is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD); in other words, patients with SAD can be just as depressed as patients with MDD and are often more so. The only distinction between these depressive disorders is the timing of the episodes, which occur during the short, dark days of winter in patients with SAD.

Each year, as the days become shorter and darker, people that suffer from SAD develop a certain set of symptoms; they slow down and struggle to wake up in the morning. Their energy levels decrease, they tend to eat more, especially sugars, carbohydrates, and starches, and they gain weight.

Recognising the signs of SAD:

  • Feeling hopeless, listless, and disinterested in activities

  • Gaining weight, experiencing an increase in appetite

  • Feeling lazy, sluggish, and lethargic

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Social withdrawal from friends and family

  • Feeling irritable, unhappy, and melancholic

The knock-on effects are that work and relationships are affected, and sufferers can become pretty down and depressed. These symptoms can often last for four or five months until the days become longer again. SAD can affect people at any time of the year – particularly as it is triggered by reduced exposure to light – cloudy days or a workplace that has limited light sources for example.

SAD can be debilitating and affect productivity, interpersonal relationships, and cause a loss of interest in activities that would typically be pleasurable. The winter blues is a milder version of SAD that still affects all of the above, in fact, the winter blues is often seen as a precursor to SAD – in fact, if you add the stresses of working life (longer work hours, tighter deadlines, a poor performance rating) to someone who has the winter blues – they are more prone developing into SAD.

So here are some tips to stopping SAD in its tracks

Everybody is unique and what works for one person might not be as effective for another – so try mixing and matching some of the following until you see some benefits…

Light therapy

Sixty to 80 percent of SAD sufferers benefit from light therapy and although the amount of light varies from person to person most people need between 30 and 90 minutes of light exposure per day and most people respond to light therapy within 2 to 4 days of initiating treatment. The best light therapy units are about 1ft by 1.5ft in surface areas and use white fluorescent lights behind a plastic diffusing screen, which filter out ultraviolet rays. Mornings seem the best time for light therapy to work, although the treatments can be divided during the day.

The Independent listed the 10 best SAD lamps available, click here for this article.

Seize the moment and grab more light

When there is some sunshine, soak it up by going for a stroll. Open the curtains to your rooms in your home or at work and clear any obstacles blocking light getting to you (trim hedges etc).

Focus on your nutrition

Avoid high-impact carbs such as pure sugars or white starches. There’s a science behind the reasons we crave certain foods when we’re stressed and I wrote an article all about it here.

Try to stick to low-impact carbs such as unprocessed oats, legumes, almonds, and walnuts plus high-protein foods, which help keep sweet cravings down.

Build exercise into your weekly routine

Walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week improves symptoms of mild to moderate depression.

Hone in on your sleep patterns

A new study finds that sleep patterns can affect mental health. Scientists have discovered that sleep disruption affects mental health by changing the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, which in turn negatively alters processing and the regulation of emotions... Read all about it here.

Create an uplifting playlist

Researchers have proved that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improved participant’s moods in both the short and long term. The study established that music can positively influence all five of the factors affecting well-being (positive emotion, relationships, engagement, achievement, and meaning), it’s compelling evidence that music can positively contribute to a person’s well-being and happiness.

Turn that frown upside down

A study discovered that thinking about something that makes you smile can actually make you happier... the research found that smiling activates positive memories.

Calmer Sea and the resilience masterclass has a goal: to create a better life experience for as many people as possible by helping them to break down any barriers that they face and unlocking their true potential. By taking the right steps to reduce the effects of the winter blues and of SAD plus following the resilience masterclass 12-step process, together, we can help you to relax and find inner peace.

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