It’s common to feel low during the wintertime. In fact, the NHS reports that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects around 2 million people in the UK and more than 12 million across northern Europe.
SAD is certainly a common occurrence at this time of year, but why does it affect so many people? Read on to find out precisely what SAD is, and some fantastic mood-boosting tips to limit its effects on your mental health and help you get through winter.
SAD is the feeling of depression during winter caused by a lack of sunlight
Coincidentally, SAD is an abbreviation that reflects its meaning quite well; it is an annual pattern of sadness and depression during the wintertime. While the causes aren’t fully understood, the condition has been linked to a lack of sunlight.
More specifically, the lack of sunlight affects a part of your brain called the hypothalamus, which can result in:
- Disrupted circadian rhythm – your circadian rhythm, essentially your internal body clock, is often disturbed when there are fewer hours of light in the day, which can result in SAD.
- Overproduction of melatonin – those experiencing SAD often produce too much melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep cycle.
- Underproduction of serotonin – serotonin, the chemical that influences your appetite, sleeping patterns and general mood, can be underproduced when you don’t get enough sunlight.
As a result of SAD, you can exhibit a range of symptoms such as low moods, lethargy, irritability, and even difficulty concentrating on simple tasks.
8 great tips to help you fight SAD
The good news is that there are steps you can take to limit SAD’s draining effects and get through the cold winter months unscathed. Continue reading to find out how.
1. Stay active
Staying active is potentially one of the best ways to stave off SAD.
Mental health charity, Mind, reports that with the help of exercise, you can manage your stressful thoughts, get a better night’s sleep, and have higher moods in general.
In fact, the NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, which can lower your risks of depression, and even dementia.
This doesn’t mean you need to start rigorously exercising – even one walk every day can go a long way in helping you feel better.
2. Ensure you get outside regularly
Speaking of getting out to exercise, spending as much time as possible outdoors can also help you fight SAD, especially on brighter days.
This is because, as mentioned, sunlight is thought to be one of the significant factors in the cause of SAD, so getting out into light spaces can often help. Or, if the weather’s poor, even sitting by a window could make a difference.
That said, even if the weather is poor, you might still want to consider getting out for a walk; the Guardian reports that people who walk in bad weather were found with higher levels of antibodies in the mouth, nose, and gut. So, this simple change to your routine can strengthen your immunity and amplify your lung capacity.
3. Keep warm
This may seem obvious, as we’re likely all trying to stay warm during the cold winter months, but believe it or not, being cold can exacerbate feelings of depression.
The NHS recommends that you should ideally aim to have your home somewhere between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius. Though, if you’re also looking for ways to cut costs this winter amid high energy prices, you could always wrap up in another layer or have a nice warm drink.
4. Maintain a healthy diet
Another essential tip to keep yourself going through winter is keeping to a healthy diet. The British Dietetic Association states that wholegrains, fruits, and vegetables all contain vital B vitamins and zinc, both of which have been shown to help manage depression.
If you’re especially struggling to meet your recommended levels of vitamins each day, you could always try vitamin supplements alongside a varied diet.
Also, by avoiding unhealthy comfort foods such as crisps or chocolate, you could avoid putting on weight over winter.
5. Start a new hobby
If exercise isn’t your thing, or you don’t want to face the cold weather, you could always try taking up a new hobby over winter.
This could be anything from writing a blog, joining a social club, or even knitting, the latter being incredibly convenient during the winter months.
Focusing your attention on a hobby can take your mind off your thoughts, help you forget your SAD symptoms, and give you something to look forward to.
6. Keep in touch with friends and family
Winter is often a great time to catch up with family and friends, and doing so can be great for your mental health.
Try to keep in touch with your family, especially during the winter months, and even friends you don’t speak with as much anymore. In fact, you may even want to make it your challenge to reconnect with people you’ve lost contact with.
Talking through things with others is a fantastic way to feel better about things and help you cope with some of the symptoms of SAD.
7. Set small, realistic goals and targets
When trying to pull yourself out of a low mood caused by SAD, you may set yourself goals to keep your mind occupied. Though, it’s often best to keep these goals small and realistic.
Setting vast to-do lists can make you feel depressed if you don’t meet your targets which, if you’re already feeling down, can be challenging to stick to.
Small and realistic targets can help you feel boosted and rewarded every time you reach one of your goals, and can even help you form healthy habits in the long run. Then, when you’ve achieved several of your milestones, you can build up to bigger ones.
8. Seek mental health support
Above all else, if you’re especially struggling with depression, low moods, and other symptoms of SAD, you should get in touch with a mental health specialist.
Seeking support can initially be difficult, but you’re likely to feel much better once you’ve done so. And, you’ll benefit from the satisfaction that comes with the feeling that you’re working on yourself.
If you want to talk with a mental health specialist, you should get in touch with your local GP, or call one of the mental health helplines, such as Samaritans or SANEline.