Guest blog by Sam Hadadi
With the recent dreary skies, Arctic winds and flurries of snow, you may well be joining us in dreaming of azure seas, cloudless skies and cocktails on tap. In fact, here at Lucy Bee, we’re finding ourselves in a bit of a winter funk.
Come January and February, we always start longing for summer. Wishing for longer evenings, brighter mornings and the warmth of the sun on our skin.
However, for many people, that feeling of sadness in the winter months can be crippling, or far worse than a simple yearning for warmer weather. In fact, winter depression is so common that it even has its own name: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
So, what is it? Well, SAD is a form of depression that’s triggered by a lack of daylight hours and sunlight. Chances are, either you or someone you know and love will suffer with it.
You see, it’s pretty common – around one in five of us suffers from mild SAD (that’s an astonishing TWO MILLION people in the UK), or “winter blues”. 2 per cent of people suffer from severe SAD, which can affect them so badly that they’re unable to carry out their normal, day-to-day lives.
As with many forms of Depression, women are more likely to develop SAD than men1, and the peak age group for suffering from its symptoms is 18-30. Strangely, older adults are less likely to suffer with it.
Meanwhile, people at higher altitudes or far away from the equator are even more likely to suffer symptoms.
We don’t really know exactly why SAD occurs – those clever scientists are still researching exactly what causes it - but it’s fairly safe to assume that the lack of sun throws our brain’s chemicals and hormones out of synch. Yep, just another thing that likes to wreak havoc with our hormones.
It’s thought that having access to little sunlight can mess up our body clock, which leads to feelings of depression. It can also interfere with the body’s levels of Serotonin, a chemical in the brain that can cause mood changes, while shorter daytimes can mean we don’t get enough melatonin, which plays a key role in sleep patterns. When you put it like that, it’s no wonder that many of us are prone to SAD…
Unfortunately, there’s no short answer to this! As with other forms of Depression, SAD has a whole range of symptoms, and every single person may find that it affects them in different ways.
If you’re worried you may have SAD, then here’s our handy checklist of possible symptoms. Just remember that you don’t necessarily have to tick all the boxes to be diagnosed – you may just have one sign or lots, but if you are worried, it still pays to get checked out first.
If any of those symptoms sound familiar to you, especially during the colder months, then give your doctor a call and ask to have a chat.
Sadly, we still have months to go before we can lounge in the hot summer sun with a good book in our hands. Yet while it may seem tempting to bury yourself beneath the duvet until spring arrives, there are some things you can do in the meantime.
We’d always suggest you consult your GP if you think you have SAD. They may suggest pills or therapies including counselling, but you can also ask to try light therapy – it’s thought to be effective in up to 85 per cent of cases2. Impressive, right?
While most office or house lights are too dim to treat SAD, you can buy special boxes which mimic outdoor light. These can be turned on each day for 30 minutes to an hour during the darker months and can work in just days.
If sitting near a light box doesn’t tickle your fancy, then there are plenty of other ways that you can spread a smile this winter. Here are some of our favourite ways to get happy, fast.
Whether you want to pound the pavements, climb mountains, stretch or swim, exercise can be a fantastic way to send your mood soaring. Getting moving will not only boost those endorphins and decrease stress levels, but it’ll even help you in the fight against those nasty cold and flu bugs.
We know that getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise isn’t always appealing – and nor is hitting the gym after a long day at work. But you don’t need to do too much exercise to feel the benefits – a 2005 study found that even walking quickly for half an hour to an hour three times a week3 does wonders for our mood.
2) Eat Chocolate
Yes, really – chocoholics rejoice! Many of us will reach for a bar of chocolate when we feel at our lowest and probably for good reason. Dark chocolate is a known mood booster as it can raise the dopamine levels in the brain. Why? Well, it’s all down to some simple (ish) science.
You see, chocolate releases endorphins, which give us feelings of pleasure. Chocolate is also rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid which produces serotonin, otherwise known as the brain’s "happy chemical." If you want to, you could even try making our very own Lucy Bee for chocolate here.
3) Take Your Vitamins
With the shorter days and nights, our vitamin D levels can plummet. Unless you’re lucky enough to be jetting off to the Caribbean, you could try taking vitamin D supplements. In fact, studies have shown that it can improve SAD symptoms dramatically3.
As Dr Jennifer Stryder told Medical Daily: “There are vitamin D receptors on every cell in the body, including cells in the nervous system, so having appropriate vitamin D levels help those cells to function optimally, which in turns results in a better mood.”
4) Dress Happy!
Certain colours are known to boost your mood – it’s called colour therapy. Yellow and green are proven to make you smile, whereas red is fantastic for an energy boost. Perfect excuse for a spot of shopping, we say…
5) Think Happy
It might seem obvious, but taking time to think happy thoughts or positive things can dramatically affect our mood. We’re not saying you need to start meditating – although we love that too – but simply spend five minutes every day thinking about what you’re grateful for, or even the little things that have made you smile.
If you do think you might suffer from SAD, then book in to see your GP as soon as you can. In the meantime, have a gander at http://www.sada.org.uk/index.php 4 - the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association- for support and advice.
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The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.