Get through your winter blues

Article Becky Frew Jan 20, 2016

Is Seasonal Affective Disorder getting the better of you? Beat the blues with our top tips

Have you been feeling down in the dumps recently but have no idea why? You might have SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder - which is a type of depression that can come and go with the change of the seasons. December, January and February are typically the worst months for those affected, but come spring and summer, sufferers tend to see a general lift in mood again.

According to the NHS, symptoms of SAD include a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, irritability, feeling lethargic and finding it harder than usual to get up in the mornings.

Though the reason for SAD is not completely understood, The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association believes it is caused by shortened daylight hours and lack of sunlight. They add that SAD can occur at any age and can be triggered by a range of other factors including illness and childbirth. But there are natural ways in which you can fight the blues - and the good news is that eating right and exercising regularly can help. Here's how.

Eat to combat SAD

Eating a healthy diet can contribute to alleviating the symptoms of SAD, since omega-3 fatty acids and carbohydrates are thought to help.

Many researchers have studied carbohydrates and their link to depression. A study by Richard J. Wurtman, MD discovered that our brains make serotonin - a neurotransmitter which helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another - when we eat foods such as potatoes, pasta and rice. His wife Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, found that serotonin could restore mental energy and soothe emotional stress. If you have an imbalance in serotonin levels, it may influence your mood and make you feel more depressed.

That doesn’t include all carbs though - simple or refined carbohydrates such a donuts and white bread can cause a short spike in blood sugar before they come crashing back down. Bad news for junk food lovers, as these sugar crashes are the last thing your body needs when your mood is already low.

Not getting enough sunlight can cause vitamin D deficiency which might also affect your mood, as the melatonin in the sunshine vitamin controls when we sleep and when we wake - which is why you could find it that bit harder to get out the right side of the bed in the mornings come winter. Unfortunately jetting off to the Caribbean every week to top up our vitamin D stores is not possible for most of us. The good news, however, is that eating oily fish can help - as well as containing vitamin D, it's also rich in omega-3, which helps to make it easier for serotonin to pass through cell membranes.

Power through and exercise

Lacing up your trainers and dragging yourself outside into the cold will be the last thing you'll feel like doing on a grim and grey day but we guarantee that once your exercise session is done and dusted, you will feel better.

Regular exercise can help ease depression because it releases feel-good brain chemicals, which decrease stress hormones and release endorphins. Endorphins are the chemicals in your body which make you feel good, and when they're set free though exercise your mood is lifted.

You don’t even have to become a hardcore gym-goer to feel the effects of endorphins - just 10 minutes of exercise can be enough to lift your mood and lower fatigue. What better excuse do you need to put on your fave tunes and get moving?