The Winter Blues – do they get you down?

Winter Depression: The Natural Approach
It’s that time of year again, and whilst some people love the idea of winter, warm fires and snuggling down under the duvet, for others the shorter, darker days and the cooler temperatures herald the onset of a time of doom and gloom . These individuals are likely to be to suffering from a  condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. as it is more commonly known.

Typical symptoms of S.A.D. can include:

• Overeating during the autumn and winter months
• Weight gain
• Getting tired easily
• Depression
• Irritability
• Feeling unsociable
• Getting too much sleep
• Carbohydrate cravings
• Disappearance of the symptoms in the spring and summer months

What Causes S.A.D. or the ‘winter blues’?
It is no coincidence that seasonal affective disorder and other less severe forms of the disorder occur when the days begin to darken and there is less sunlight. Not many people realise that sunlight is actually essential for human health, and when you don’t get enough, your mental and physical health will suffer:
• Levels of the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin rise following exposure to bright light.
• Melatonin (the sleep hormone) rises and falls with light and darkness. Melatonin levels increase when it is dark, making you feel naturally tired when it begins to go dark outside even when it is only 5.00 pm!
• Sun exposure is essential for vitamin D production in the body, which is also linked to higher levels of serotonin.

How to Boost Your Mood During the Winter Months?
Whether you suffer from seasonal affective disorder or a milder case of the winter blues, there are lots of natural ways that you can help to boost your mood throughout the winter months:

• Make sure you get enough exercise.  Exercise, particularly outdoors in the fresh air,  is one of nature’s best natural anti-depressants. Regular exercise can greatly improve your mood and has a whole host of healthy side effects too!

• Increase your intake of Omega-3. These essential fats are strongly linked to brain function and mood and many people are deficient because they lack the necessary dietary intake. Omega-3s are found in dark green leafy vegetables, flax seeds and flax oil, walnuts, and oily fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fats through diet alone so taking a daily supplement of high quality natural omega 3 fish oil is generally recommended.

• Ensure you have Good Quality (& Quantity of) Sleep. We have naturally evolved to go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. Straying too far from this natural pattern may disrupt the body’s delicate hormone cycles. Think about possibly having an earlier bedtime in the winter months than in the summer.

• Consider using 5-HTP.  Think about supplementing 5 HTP, a natural precursor to serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. This can be a useful aid in cases of mild depression.

• Supplement with Vitamin D. Use a good quality vitamin D supplement to compensate for the lack of sunlight over the winter months. Most people in more northerly zones will benefit from supplementation even if their diet is generally good.

• Check your diet supports a healthy blood sugar balance – erratic blood sugar levels throughout the day can affect mood and mental stability. Reduce intake of tea, coffee, alcohol and refined foods such as white bread, cakes, biscuits and heavily processed foods. Instead choose wholegrain varieties, good quality protein such as free-range chicken or organic salmon, fresh fruits and vegetables, herbal teas and drink plenty of water.

• Don’t be tempted to take a tipple.  Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to make serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan, so if you suffer from winter depression consider reducing your intake of alcohol.

• Regular relaxation exercises can be useful to reduce symptoms of depression – try yoga & meditation classes, treat yourself to a relaxing aromatherapy massage, or start a new indoor hobby.