You’ve probably heard people talk about having the ‘winter blues’, or maybe when it rains day after day, you start to feel a bit down yourself.
For many people, winter feels like the time to just hunker down and get through and plan for the summer ahead. But for others, low mood, irritability and lethargy brought on by the start of winter, can be signs of a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Although the specific cause of SAD isn’t known, a drop in your serotonin and a rise in your melatonin levels may play a part. Serotonin, often called the ‘feel good hormone’, helps stabilise your mood and lessen anxiety. In the winter months, when there isn’t much sunlight, your serotonin levels can drop. On the other hand, having more melatonin makes you feel sleepy and lethargic.
If you think you, or someone you know, is suffering from SAD, it’s important to seek help from a GP as soon as possible.
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Simple lifestyle changes can help, so here’s our ABC (and a little bit of D) top tips to help manage the symptoms of SAD.
1. Ask for help early
Although SAD usually only occurs in winter, without help your symptoms can get worse. Get help early. Your GP can recommend some more lifestyle changes or prescribe medications or talking therapy to help. If you’ve suffered from SAD before, get help as soon as you start to notice any symptoms or talk to your doctor abut how you might prevent it.
Once you’ve seen your GP, talk to whānau and friends, and ask them for help when you need it. Find a support person who’ll keep you motivated to continue doing the things you usually enjoy.
2. Bundle up and get outside
It’s important to get outside on those crisp, sunny winter days. Throw on a coat and gumboots, bundle up the family and head outside. Take a walk around your local park, jump in puddles and enjoy the winter sun. If you can get out first thing in the morning after it's light, even better.
3. Care for yourself
Make exercise a priority. Take a walk outside on your lunch break or go for a walking meeting. Ask a friend to commit to a weekly walk – it’s more fun to exercise with someone and knowing they’re counting on you will help keep you motivated.
4. Daily dose of vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for healthy bones, and being low in this vitamin can also affect your mood. Most of our vitamin D comes from the sun – another good reason to get outdoors during winter. Oily fish (tinned salmon and tuna), eggs, lean meats and dairy are good sources of vitamin D, so eat lots of these foods in winter.
You can find out more about seasonal affective disorder by visiting The Mental Health Foundation.