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.