You’re Not Alone…
Summer has gone, the winter months are drawing closer, and with them what is often described as the ‘winter blues’. Most of us who feel these symptoms will just get on with life, ploughing through the long months – perhaps booking a winter sun holiday if we can.
But often this is more than just a feeling, it is actually a form of depressive behaviour known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Interestingly, a 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal found that around 6% of UK residents were known to have Seasonal Affective Disorder (and with 2% of the Northern European population having severe depression resulting from SAD).
Known Symptoms of the Winter Blues
- Decreased energy/increased lethargy
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Increased appetite, and/or weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased interest in sex (libido)
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Depression/anxiety and irritability
As the medical profession conducts more research into depression, issues like SAD are being identified and treated. If you recognise the symptoms, there are some relatively easy ways you can help yourself.
How to Fix the Winter Blues
Interestingly, the winter sun holiday is likely to help, as SAD seems to be associated with light levels, and is recorded in much greater frequency the further you get from the equator. But, for most of us, spending our winters in the Maldives just isn’t financially viable. So what else can we do?
- Get outdoors. As little light as there is in winter, you should try to get as much as possible. For many of us, this means getting away from the computer screens in our lunch break, and exercising outdoors rather than in a gym.
- Try light therapy. Some people have found benefit in the light box treatment, which involves buying a specialist light (about 10 times the strength of a normal domestic light bulb) and sitting near it for 1-3 hours a day.
- Consider serotonin-boosting food, or supplements such as tablets or patches. The main theory on SAD links the lack of light in the winter to the body’s production of serotonin, so look out for food or supplements that contain naturally occuring serotonin-boosting amino acids (such as L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP).1
1 For more detail on the link between serotonin and Seasonal Affective Disorder, download the 2013 study “Role of serotonin in seasonal affective disorder” which was published in the European Review for Pharmalogical and Medical Sciences. One of the findings in that study is that the depletion of L-Tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin) is associated with a relapse of depressive symptoms in patients who are in remission due to light therapy. And serotonin levels have been found to be lowest in the winter months.