Chunky knits, hot drinks, cosy evenings at home and...quiet, relentless feelings of fatigue, gloom and mediocrity. Ah, winter. The lack of daytime must be the worst thing about winter. Not only it is freezing cold and you have to wear 7 layers just to endure a brisk walk, but it can sometimes feel like it is never day - you leave for work and it’s dark, you finish work and it’s dark. Where did your life go?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or quite fittingly - SAD) was officially named in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal at the National Institute for Mental Health. American studies show that about 5% of the population experience it, while nearly three times more suffer from winter blues. What’s the difference between the two? Mostly the degree to which affects your life. With winter blues life still feels manageable, albeit more difficult, people who suffer from SAD can experience severe impact on their life. The lines between the two are not clearly defined - tight deadlines, a tough breakup or generally increased stress levels can quickly turn the winter blues into SAD. Or a person with SAD can take a holiday and have some more rest and time to enjoy the short day and start experiencing just mild symptoms of winter blues.
We’re heading towards the shortest day ot the year (the winter solstice on 22nd December) . If you live in Britain, this is especially debilitating. When was the last time you saw the sun? So if you feel a bit (or a lot) down lately, don’t beat yourself for it, it’s quite the normal thing.
It doesn’t have to be all misery. Here are some ways you can alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
Recognize the symptoms.
Does your energy dip massively from October onwards? Do you struggle to wake up in the morning? Feel like you can’t hold your head up after you had your lunch? Do you crave more sweets and carbs than usual? Don’t want to meet your friends on Friday evening (a few times in a row) but just want to stay at home and catch up on some rest?
These are all classical symptoms of both SAD and the winter blues but can easily be attributed to other things in life. Observe your energy and mood to be ahead of the game.
Get enough sleep
It’s difficult to beat the fatigue if you are underslept. Make sure you go to bed early (before 10pm ideally) and without taking your phone to bed - the blue light emitted from your devices can have an effect on your circadian rhythm which is already messed up by the lack of light during the day in the office - don’t disrupt it any further.
Get up early and do something for yourself before work
One of the worst things about winter is that you can get the feeling that nothing ever happens in your life other than work. With the shorter darker days, we tend to want to hibernate and ignore our hobbies. Get up half an hour earlier (or an hour if you can) and do something you enjoy. Having a quiet morning for yourself can really affect your mood for the rest of the day. As Ed Mylett says having control over the first 30 and the last 30 minutes of your day increases the probability you can have some control over the rest of it.
It is impossible to feel down when you are at your peak physical state. It can do wonders to your mood and energy levels.
Nourish your body
Eating heavy foods will make you feel heavier and sluggish. It is best to avoid too much sugary and starchy treats - these make your blood sugar levels go up and down which in turn plays up with your energy - one thing you definitely want to get as balanced as possible in winter.
Drink PLENTY of water
Nothing to add here - staying hydrated is essential for you, SAD or not. Drink your water, you beautiful but dehydrated creature!
Invest in a lightbox
Most professionals agree that the most effective treatment for SAD is light therapy. Numerous studies have shown the effect of light therapy on winter blues and SAD. It’s believed that SAD is caused by cuts in serotonin in the brain due to the lack of light and as we can’t naturally get enough light in the Northern Hemisphere, it is recommended that we at least get that through light therapy.
They are usually pretty small and looking similar to a mirror - pop one on your desk and turn it on close to your face for half an hour in the afternoon.
Visit an infrared sauna
While there isn’t any scientific evidence that infrared light can have the same beneficial effect as bright LED light, the cosy feeling of an infrared sauna can help you on another level to relax. It is also amazing for the skin! It penetrates deeply into the skin (unlike regular sauna which just heats the air around you) and rejuvenates that winter dryness (which on its own can be sad inducer - just the regular sad)