WINTER may have been slow to arrive. But when the clocks go back, there’s no denying that it’s here. This Sunday, British Summer Time comes to an end, which means that we’ll soon be going to work and coming back home in the dark. This may make some of us feel that we’d rather stay in, sleep all day, and eat nothing but chocolate and industrial quantities of pasta. If you are feeling this way, you may be suffering symptoms of “winter blues”, a less acute version of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). You certainly aren’t alone: winter blues affects 17 per cent of the UK’s population, and though the average age of first-time sufferers is 18-30, you can even experience the onset of winter blues in your forties. Here is a breakdown of what the winter blues are, and how to alleviate some of the symptoms.
WHAT ARE WINTER BLUES?
SAD is a depression that’s brought on by the lack of sunlight. Where SAD is a depressive illness, winter blues is a milder form of the disorder. Sufferers tend to feel lethargic and sleep more.
According to the SAD Association (SADA), symptoms of depression and anxiety are mild, but sufferers can still experience tiredness, lethargy, overeating and sleeping problems. Your GP can help if you have winter blues, but if your symptoms are severe and you think you may have SAD, contact your GP immediately, as it can be a seriously disabling illness.
GETTING MORE LIGHT
To help relieve the symptoms of winter blues, you need as much sunlight as possible. Unfortunately, with the shortened days in winter, this is difficult, but you can pick up specific SAD lights that are designed to provide high levels of brightness. It’s not enough to have a bright light on your desk from any old lamp. Specific SAD lights have up to 20 times more lux (the measure of intensity and brightness of visible light) than a normal lightbulb. If you’re thinking about buying a SAD lightbox or lamp, make sure that it is medically certified and specifically for the purpose. Lumie (www.lumie.com) makes lightboxes, lights for your desk at work, and wake-up lights that mimic a sunrise so that you are rising to what seems like natural light.
MOVE AWAY FROM YOUR DESK
Sue Pavlovich, a spokesperson for SADA, advises taking a walk in the sunshine during your lunch break if you can. Alternatively, if it’s not possible to be away from your desk for that amount of time, use your weekends as fully as you can to be out of doors. Exchange the gym for outdoor exercise where possible, so that you’re regularly taking in lots of sun. Think of fun outdoor activities such as kite-flying on Hampstead Heath, or a cycle-ride along the Embankment.
WHAT TO EAT
Winter blues can make you crave carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes and sweet things such as chocolate. “The key thing is to try to resist these foods,” says Pavlovich. “Obviously it will be difficult but they make you more lethargic and sap your energy”. Instead, make the effort to eat foods that boost the feel-good hormone serotonin. Charlotte Watts, nutritionist and yoga teacher (www.de-stressyourlife.com) agrees. She suggests eating foods high in tryptophan, the amino-acid that helps produce serotonin, such as chicken, turkey, bananas, yogurt, tofu, cottage cheese, soybeans and tuna.
If you find yourself reaching for the biscuits, arm yourself with nuts (especially almonds), avocado on wholegrain crackers, figs or dates. Try to include oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and trout in your diet too. “The release of healthy levels of serotonin in the brain relies on good levels of omega 3 oils,” says Watts, “so these oily fish provide vitamins and minerals that are needed for serotonin production”.
For more information visit www.sada.org.uk