get the better of s.a.d
Seasonal Affecive Disorder is a form of depression related to changing daylight hours, sometimes known as 'winter depression' because the symptoms are usually more apparent and severe during the winter.
'Unfortunately, there are not reliable figures on the number of people living with SAD because it’s often difficult to diagnose. Many people diagnosed with depression may also have SAD but are not diagnosed.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SAD?
Symptoms of depression include a persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in everyday normal activities, low self-esteem and becoming less sociable, according to the NHS.
'Public attitudes towards people with mental health problems are gradually improving, thanks in part to anti-stigma movements like Time to Change, run jointly by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness,' Stephen said.
'As with other mental health problems, awareness of SAD is on the rise, and is being taken more seriously, but there’s still a way to go.'
TIPS FOR PEOPLE EXPERIENCING SAD
1. GET ACTIVE
Physical activity and going outdoors, particularly around midday or on sunny days, can be effective in reducing symptoms, even if it’s just taking a short stroll at lunch. It can be hard to resist the urge to stay under the duvet when it’s cold and dark outside, but research shows that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.
It can also help you sleep better, which in itself boosts mood. There is an added bonus that taking up a new sport or activity may help you to meet new people and give you something to look forward to.
2. EAT WELL
It’s always tempting to reach for your favourite comfort foods when you want to cheer yourself up but eating a healthy and balanced diet can be as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health.
At this time of year, there is a tendency for many of us to increase the amount of sugar, caffeine and alcohol in our diets but stimulants such as these can make feelings of anxiety and stress worse and leave you feeling lethargic. Eating lots of foods high in fat and carbohydrate can cause your blood sugar to crash, resulting in sluggishness. Try to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and fatty oils like omega 3 and 6 from foods like oily fish, seeds and nuts in your diet.
Cold weather can make us less likely to socialise with others, especially if we live alone and want to stay cosy indoors. If you are struggling with a mental health problem like depression, withdrawing from friends and family can be both a symptom and a cause of poor mental health.
Having contact with people can have a big impact on improving our mood, so try to make plans to see people. Doing activities during the day, when it’s warmer and lighter, can be beneficial. If you don’t feel able to leave the house try to speak on the phone or invite someone over.
4. LIGHT THERAPY
Light therapy involves daily exposure to a very bright specialist light, usually for a couple of hours a day. The reason this can make a difference is that when light hits the retina at the back of our eye, it passes messages to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is responsible for things like mood, sleep, appetite and temperature.
Some people need more light than others to function normally, meaning that the darker months can make them more likely to develop SAD. You might also consider something as simple as working near a window or in a brighter area. You could also invest in a SAD light to boost you.
5. SPEAK TO YOUR GP
Talk to your GP if you’ve noticed changes to your feelings, thoughts and behaviour that last longer than two weeks or keep returning. Perhaps you’re feeling tearful, irritable, or have lost interest in things you’ve previously enjoyed. Keep an eye out for changes to things like sleeping and eating. Your GP should be able to tell you what help and support is available. If appropriate, they may refer you for talking treatments such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy, which can be very useful.
Antidepressants may be prescribed if you have severe SAD. Drugs can be beneficial for many people, but they don’t work for everyone, and do come with potential side effects. Your GP should discuss all the available options with you and if you are prescribed medication, it’s important to regularly monitor how they’re working for you.
Talking to your GP about mental health can be daunting, so Mind has produced a guide to help.
HOW FOOD CAN ALTER YOUR SAD
1. KEEP YOUR BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS STEADY TO AVOID DIPS IN YOUR MOOD AND ENERGY.
It is important to eat good quality protein and slow releasing carbohydrates every 3-4 hours to keep your brain fuelled and your blood sugar levels steady. Refined sugar and carbohydrates can spike your blood sugar levels and have you riding the blood sugar rollercoaster. This, in turn, can have a negative impact on your mood. However, this doesn’t mean you need to ditch the carbs entirely simply opt for those which have a low glycaemic load such as brown basmati rice, vegetables, quinoa and sweet potato.
2. ADD A PALM-SIZED PORTION OF PROTEIN TO EACH OF YOUR MEALS.
Protein-rich foods such as turkey contain the amino acid tryptophan which is the building block for our feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Depending on your size aim to add around 30g of protein to each of your meals to ensure you have a good supply of amino acids the building blocks to your feel-good neurotransmitters. Protein-based foods to consider include a portion of red meat, eggs, fish, poultry. For plant-based meals consider oats, dates, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and buckwheat.
3. TAKE 26 SECONDS TO ADMIRE YOUR DISH BEFORE TUCKING IN.
Research has revealed that Brits pause for 26 seconds to proudly admire their home-cooked meals before eating. Daily creative activities, such as cooking, are also linked to increased feelings of pride. An effective way of boosting your levels of feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin is to simply pause and take pride in what you have made, but most importantly, setting aside the time to do so. At the point of plating up permit yourself to celebrate this small success as part of a daily routine, promoting feelings of happiness and well-being. The same satisfaction can be had from bulk cooking for the week on a Sunday – this will also help you regulate your diet, save you time and probably save you money.
4. ADD GOOD QUALITY FATS TO YOUR MEALS.
Foods rich in omega three fatty acids are vital for optimal brain function and to keep your mood steady. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) an omega three fatty acid can help increase serotonin release by reducing inflammatory signalling molecules in the brain known as E2 series prostaglandins. These prostaglandins inhibit serotonin release. Omega- 3 fatty acid foods include avocado, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines. Nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds and walnuts and plant oils such as flaxseed.
SAD fighting foods proven to help get us through the winter include; Salmon, Milk, Eggs, Mushrooms, Fresh orange juice, Nuts and Seeds.
For more information on SAD visit the Mind website. More than anything else, remember you are not alone and there is help, including self-help available.
Winter doesn't have to be a S.A.D season. Get out and make the most of it!