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Boosting Your Mood In Winter To Fight Seasonal Depression

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As shorter, darker and colder days come with winter, there are pros and cons which we all face. While there are parts to love, the woolly hats and gloves, hot chocolates, Christmas lights and evenings by the fire, it’s also the time of the year where most people have a low mood.

Often called SAD, seasonal depression or winter blues, it can be easy to feel more irritable, lethargic, tired and harder to get up and do things. But, there are ways that you can improve your mood in the winter to make life easier.

What is SAD?

Called seasonal affective disorder, SAD is a type of depression which is affected by the season and comes and goes in patterns. Winter depression or winter blues are known to be apparent only in the winter when we deal with the colder, dark and shorter days of the year. With this type of seasonal depression, you might find that you feel happier and more inspired to do things during the warmer months of the year but down during the colder months.

Other people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter, it all depends on how the times of year affect you personally. But SAD syndrome is completely normal and can have the same symptoms as depression, it just lifts depending on the time of the year.

Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

The symptoms of SAD are similar to depression, and for some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day lives. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • A persistent low mood
  • Loss of interest in day-to-day activities or routines
  • Feelings of worthlessness, despair or guilt
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy and feeling extremely tired during the day
  • Sleeping for longer than normal during the night or taking more naps than normal
  • Finding it harder to get up in the morning or do activities
  • Craving carbohydrates or sugars and gaining weight
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Decreased sex drive

What Causes Winter Blues?

The exact cause of seasonal depression isn’t well known, but it’s often linked to reduced sunlight exposure due to the shorter days and colder weather. Your body's exposure to sunlight can affect the hypothalamus in your brain, which in turn affects hormones such as melatonin and serotonin as well as your body’s internal clock.

Melatonin is the hormone which produces sleepy feelings is produced more when it’s darker outside. Without the sunshine, people who have SAD may have more levels of sleepy hormones and be more lethargic.

Sunlight is also known to boost your mood naturally as it produces serotonin, the happy hormone. Having lower serotonin levels can affect your mood, appetite and sleep, which can lead to feelings of seasonal depression.

And finally, shorter days can also mess with your circadian rhythm. Your body uses sunlight and associates it with various everyday functions, such as waking up and going to sleep. So darker mornings make it harder for you to get up without the sun shining, and getting dark earlier can make you naturally more tired as your body clock isn’t used to it.

Winter blues can also be affected more if you are already struggling with other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. And it’s also possible that SAD can run in families so those people can be more vulnerable to it.

Ways To Boost Your Mood And Beat SAD

If you are suffering from winter sadness, don’t worry as there are ways to treat SAD, from lifestyle changes to various therapies and activities.

1. Exercise

Exercise can have an instant uplifting effect on your mood. It floods the brain with mood-enhancing endorphins and releases the stresses and strains of the day. Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and do enough of it. But do limit yourself to exercise that is person-ally enjoyable as this means you will be far more likely to develop a routine and stick to it.

2. A healthy diet

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is very important. Too much sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol could leave you feeling lethargic and lower your mood. What you eat also has an effect on your mood, you are what you eat after all. Make sure you include vital nutrients, fruits and vegetables to not only your body but your mind and mood too.

With seasonal depression, some people don’t feel like eating at all, or only unhealthy food, while others find comfort in food and can put weight on during winter. And during the winter months, more people indulge in drinking more units of alcohol than normal. All of these are nor-mal, but the key is to balance the unhealthy with the healthy. Looking at what you are putting in your body is key to treating SAD.

3. Take Vitamin D for SAD

Where sunshine isn’t as prominent in the winter months, Vitamin D can help. Not only is a key nutrient for your body, but it’s also known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ This is because Vitamin D is made by the body on exposure to direct sunlight. This means that those who live further away from the equator with a UV index below 3 (the minimum required for vitamin D synthesis), or during the winter months, won’t get enough to maintain their vitamin D levels. In the UK, around half of the adult population does not have sufficient amounts of vitamin D, with 16% of people being severely deficient in winter and springtime.

To improve your intake, you can find vitamin D for seasonal depression in certain foods, such as oily fish, egg yolks, red meat, liver, milk and others. But this isn’t near enough the amount that you need.

To make sure you are getting enough, vitamin D supplements not only gives your daily amount to fight SAD, but also helps muscle and bone functions as well as your immune system. While these can be taken during the winter to help beat the winter blues, you can take them year-round if you don’t get enough exposure.

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4. Spend time outside

When it is daylight out, try to go outdoors and spend as much time in the natural sun as much as possible. Especially at midday or brighter days, so take your lunch breaks and take a walk outside and soak up that sunshine. Just make sure to wrap up! When inside, keep curtains open to brighten up your space and sit near windows whenever you can.

5. Keep warm

Whether you go outside or stay inside, make sure that you stay warm. Staying warm helps to increase focus and mood and can be shown to reduce winter blues. So drink plenty of hot drinks, eat warm yet nutritious food, wear warm clothes and shoes when outside, and bundle up in dressing gowns and blankets.

6. Try light therapy

Using a special lamp called a light box can be used to stimulate exposure to sunlight in a process called light therapy. Using light therapy during the winter can help treat seasonal de-pression, you can do this in many ways such as investing in a SAD light box, wake up clock and more. These give off light that is 10 times stronger than ordinary lamps, and although unconventional, it can help improve your mood this winter.

7. Get enough sleep

Sleep is important anytime of the year, but making sure you are getting the right amount of sleep during the winter can help boost your mood. Sleep is important for healing your body and mind, and getting too little or too much can cause low moods, lethargy, and problems focusing, which all contribute to SAD. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and go to bed and wake at a consistent time each night to keep your body in the routine.

If you're having trouble, try one of our sleep aids which can help calm and wind you down for bedtime. Or if you're finding that you sleep too much or have low energy, we also have supplements for tiredness which can help get you out of that slump.

8. Stay connected and social

When we are feeling down, we find it harder to do everyday activities, this includes socialising and connecting with our networks of friends and family. But isolation is the last thing you should be doing. Try to stay in touch with friends and family, make plans to see them or even call them. Being surrounded by loved ones is beneficial for your well-being and can in turn boost your mood and treat seasonal depression. If you have a pet or know someone who does, spending time with their furry friend can also be beneficial and increase serotonin and dopamine, which are naturally low during the winter.

9. Create a plan or try something new

Creating a winter plan or routine can help you keep yourself organised and on track. From day-to-day activities to creating a list of books, movies, and hobbies to enjoy can bring in that extra joy needed and break up your days. If possible, try a new hobby or learn something you've always wanted to learn. This helps keep you inspired, refreshed and more motivated during the colder months of the year. You can always also plan for the future to help you look forward to things in the next few weeks or months. From booking a meal out or a day or weekend trip away.

10. Mindfulness

Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll states in Happiness and The Human Mind, "Using mindfulness to be 'present in the moment' has been found to have numerous health benefits. Mindfulness not only helps with low mood, and anxiety and can allow people to deal more effectively with stressful situations, it can also benefit physical health problems and give us the mental space to develop a sense of acceptance."

To help treat seasonal depression, try a range of mindfulness activities, such as meditation, yoga, listening to music, exploring aromatherapy, taking self-care days or nights, breathing exercises, or just generally taking the time to take care of yourself and your mind the best way you can. The best way to help improve your mood during the darker months is to take care of your mental health. To help, we have a range of brain and mood supplements which can help with low moods, anxiety, depression and stress.

Treating Seasonal Depression

Many of these tips can help to improve your mood and help you beat the winter blues and overcome SAD. While symptoms of seasonal depression can vary from person to person, making a few lifestyle changes, taking care of your mental, emotional and physical health, as well as taking supplements can help. Or even choose an all-rounded multivitamin which has all your daily doses including vitamin D.

If you find you still struggle, try talking to someone, whether it's a trusted loved one, a support group, your GP, or even by trying cognitive behavioural therapy. Seasonal depression is normal, so know that you aren’t alone, and it will pass the warmer seasons. Good days are coming.

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