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SAD: the experts’ toolbox for boosting your happiness levels

November 13th 2016 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru

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Are you suffering from seasonal affective disorder? We asked a troupe of wellness pros for their top tools and tips

When does a simple case of the winter blues turn into something that affects your life on a larger scale? The signs are wide-ranging, but the shift can often go undetected. “Most of us are affected by the change in the seasons, but for some people the change in day, length and lack of sunshine can have a much greater impact on their mood and energy and lead to a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” says Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind. “Symptoms include sleep problems, anxiety, depression and lack of energy, all of which can significantly impact on day-to-day life. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you might find it helpful to talk to your GP, who can give you further information and discuss treatment options. Alternatively there are lots of other things you can do to help yourself.”

In our previous feature, ‘Do you have seasonal affective disorder?' psychologist Elaine Slater highlighted the following as common symptoms:

· Feeling sad, low, tearful or depressed for most of the day;

· Feeling hopeless and despairing;

· Sleep problems, oversleeping or insomnia;

· Mood swings and irritability;

· Anxiety and difficulty concentrating;

· Guilt and loss of self-esteem;

· Overeating – in particular, craving carbohydrates to boost mood;

· Weakened immune system – being more prone to illness during the winter months;

· Loss of libido;

· Lethargy and apathy.

What can you do to help offset these common signs? We asked 5 wellness and mental health experts for their top tips and product picks.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind

1) Physical activity

“Experiencing SAD can reduce your desire to be physically active, especially as exercise is less appealing during winter. While you may not feel like it, physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. Research shows outdoor exercise, such as cycling or jogging, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. If running in winter isn’t for you, activities such as Zumba, dance classes and even trapeze classes have been shown to have many positive benefits for people’s mental health. Mind’s sports programme, Get Set to Go, can help people overcome the barriers to exercising, by choosing an activity which is suitable for them and enabling them to take the first step and get active to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.”

2) Creative activities

“Creative activities are particularly therapeutic because they help you switch off from day to day pressures, turn negative thoughts or feelings into something positive and give people the opportunity to socialise. Crafternoon is Mind’s national fundraiser, it means getting together with friends, family or colleagues and holding an afternoon of creative fun. Whether it is card making, knitting, crocheting, or bauble making, crafting of all kinds can be good for our mental health. There has been a huge influx in adult colouring books in the last few years to help people with their wellbeing and mindfulness. Other activities such as therapeutic knitting, crocheting and making sock puppets have all been shown to have great positive impact for people experiencing all forms of depression including SAD.”

3) Eating well

“As tempting as it is to reach for comfort foods to cheer you up, especially as the festive season approaches, eating lots of foods high in fat and carbohydrate can often cause blood sugar levels to crash, resulting in sluggishness, and potentially an increase in your anxiety levels. A healthy balanced diet is as important for your mental health as your physical health, so it’s best to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fatty oils such as omega-3 and 6, and try to avoid stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Some people find that taking extra vitamin B12 is helpful. A healthy balanced diet is also crucial for a good night’s sleep, which is vital for your mental health.”

4) Light therapy

“Light therapy can be helpful for some people with SAD and it has been shown to work within three to five days. Light therapy involves daily exposure to a very bright specialist light, usually for a couple of hours. Light boxes are usually at least 10 times the intensity of household lights. They are available in different strengths and sizes – for SAD, a strength of at least 2,500 lux is recommended but many people find 10,000 lux to be most effective. Unfortunately, there are only a few NHS clinics specifically for SAD, so it can be difficult to get a referral and you may have to wait a long time for an appointment. Therefore you may want to buy a light box yourself, though it’s best to try one out before buying – manufacturers and suppliers may be able to offer you a free trial, or you could hire one for a short period first.”

Our top picks? Philips has a great range of SAD lights from the more compact to the more heavy duty and as far as wake-up lights go for starting your day right, you’ll find the Lumie Bodyclock Starter, £59.95, taking pride of place on our bedside cabinet too.

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Shabir Daya, natural health specialist and co-founder of Victoria Health

“The most important supplement to counter SAD in my opinion is Magnolia Rhodiola Complex by NHS Labs, £26. Extracts of magnolia have been shown to physically relax muscles and nerves and at the same time reduce levels of cortisol, the over-production of which is responsible for most of the concerns associated with SAD. Rhodiola extracts have been shown to enhance serotonin uptake and hence elevate mood and since serotonin is converted into melatonin at night time, this helps to address sleep deprivation too.”

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“Vitamin D3’s role in brain chemistry is well documented. Vitamin D’s role in depression and anxiety is not fully understood however, we do know that vitamin D receptors exist in the brain. In animal studies, we know that vitamin D increases serotonin levels in the brain and this effect is thought to be replicated in humans helping to improve mood and a sense of wellbeing. Bearing in mind that scientists believe that most of us are vitamin D3 deficient, it would be prudent to supplement this with Liposomal D, £15 – a highly absorbable form of vitamin D3.”

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Elaine Slater, Psychologist

“The ESPA Soothing Candle, £25, (from the ESPA Life Spa at the Corinthia Hotel) infuses your bedroom with a peaceful and restful calm thanks to a divinely relaxing, aromatic blend of sensual sandalwood, exotic ylang ylang, soothing lavender and deeply calming patchouli. Four of nature’s most heavenly essential oils infused together to melt away stress and help promote deep, restful sleep.”

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“ESPA Soothing Bath Oil, £29, is my other pick for addressing sleep problems. Immerse yourself and deeply inhale the aroma of sandalwood, rose geranium and frankincense to help you unwind and to gently ease tired, stressed bodies into sleep. Myrrh helps soothe and quieten busy minds to improve quality of sleep too.”

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Dr Nigma Talib, naturopathic doctor

“In terms of what you eat, I’d recommend cutting out sugar and alcohol. Sugar and alcohol feed the bad bacteria in the gut causing changes to your feel good hormone or serotonin levels. This imbalance in turn can increase your susceptibility to SAD.”

“Vitamin D3 is quite often found to be low in people with SAD. Vitamin D is necessary for optimal brain neurotransmitter levels. My Dr Nigma Vitamin D Sun supplement, £40 (available from Whole Foods) provides a clinically useful dose of vitamin D3 along with vitamin K as both K1 and the MK-7 form of K2. Vitamins D and K are essential for optimal bone and arterial health and for maintaining the immune system in proper balance. The amount of vitamin D and K in this formula may be beneficial for those who do not get adequate sun exposure and/or dietary sources of these vitamins. Vitamins D and K work as a team. Thus, increasing doses of vitamin D will increase the need for vitamin K.”

Chloe Brotheridge hypnotherapist and anxiety expert

Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath and Shower Oil, £45: you only need a couple of drops in a hot bath to scent your whole bathroom. It's incredibly relaxing and gives you that sense that all is well in the world. I'd also put some Epsom salts in the bath as the magnesium they contain helps to relax tense muscles.”

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Trilogy Rosehip Oil, £17.55: give yourself a facial massage before bed with this amazing oil. Evidence has shown that massage decreases cortisol and increases serotonin. It's incredibly comforting (and really good for your skin too).”

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“Anything that you can do to manage stress levels will help with SAD. Personally I practice Transcendental Meditation twice a day for 20 minutes and it's a game-changer in terms of stress and happiness levels for me and millions of others around the world. It's incredibly simple and easy to do and the benefits start from the first time you practice. Katy Perry, Lena Dunham and Cameron Diaz are also fans of TM. To find a teacher near you, visit uk.tm.org.”

Visit www.easywaytochange.co.uk for further details about Chloe's work.

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