Despite my pale, ‘gets burnt if I go into the sun for more than five minutes’ skin, I’m definitely what you’d call a summer person. I love hanging out at the beach (although not necessarily swimming, because sharks) and being able to walk around in shorts and a singlet without giving it a second thought. Heck, I even love the kind of humid, sweat-inducing temperatures you get in Asian countries! When November arrives and I know summer is just around the corner, I get a little extra spring in my step. But, those warmer months never seem to last long and before I know it, it’s somehow Autumn again. Those vibrant blue skies are replaced with colder temps and a dreary greyness that wouldn’t look out of place in a Harry Potter movie. And while I know we’re pretty lucky here in Australia (we consider 20 degrees cold!), I have to admit that it affects my mood. And it seems I’m not alone, either!
Yep, Seasonal Affective Disorder (otherwise known as SAD) is a real thing—and according to research, it affects around one in 300 Australians. It also happens to be four times more common in women. As the name suggests, it’s when your mood takes a nosedive due to a biochemical imbalance caused by the decrease in sunlight. Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot more common in the UK (around one in 15 people), where it’s much colder and darker. However, it does still happen here (especially in the Southern states) and it can manifest in feeling down, lethargic or even just less creative and productive. It can also lead to overeating and increased cravings for processed carbs and sugar! However, as with all mental disorders, there are varying degrees and at its worst, SAD can be a serious form of depression.
SAD is a form of depression that interferes with a person’s ability to perform daily activities, as well as social and cognitive functioning.
– Clinical Psychologist Dr James Courtney via womenshealthandfitness.com
If the above sounds like you, it’s worth speaking to your GP and possibly getting a referral to a psychologist. But if you suspect yours is just a case of the winter blues, why not give our three top tips a go?
A lack of natural sunlight decreases the happy hormone, serotonin, and this is what leads to your downcast moods in the colder months. To combat this, soak up as much light as you possibly can. This may mean drawing back your curtains as soon as you wake up, going for a stroll at lunchtime or if you have any flexibility at work, coming in early so that you can leave the office before it gets dark. If you live somewhere particularly dark and cold—or spend a lot of time in an office with zero natural sunlight—you may want to consider buying a blue light box. This box mimics the outdoor light and using it for 15 minutes is equivalent to two hours spent in the sun (without the UV damage), which causes a chemical change that boosts your mood.
There’s a strong link between Seasonal Affective Disorder and vitamin D deficiency, which makes sense as it’s primarily absorbed through sunlight! For this reason, you may need to supplement vitamin D in the colder months (as well as getting as much light as you possibly can). You can do this by taking vitamin D3 supplements or through your diet, by eating lots of fatty fish (ie. salmon and tuna), egg yolks or homemade orange juice.
While winter is undoubtedly the hardest time to find the motivation to work out, it’s probably the time we need it most! As we all know, regular exercise boosts serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals, making it the best defence against the winter sads. Pick something you love and if possible, make it an outdoor session (you’ll warm up once you get moving, we promise!)