By Neil Stewart, Chief Pharmacist
A brisk walk on a winter’s day, cooking your favourite meal and a night curled up watching Netflix are all part and parcel of the great British autumn and winter. But what happens when your enthusiasm for any or all of these disappears and shows no sign of returning?
Have you noticed this during wintertime before? If so, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD), a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons.
If you’re feeling lethargic and down or that you’ve lost your zest for life, you’re not alone. SAD affects up to one in three people in the UK* and usually occurs during the winter months, when we’ve missed out on sunlight for days – sometimes weeks – on end. The symptoms can last for more than two weeks and generally get better as springtime comes. If this condition is prolonged and begins to affect your everyday life, seek advice from your GP.
Why do we feel so SAD?
Shorter days and the lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter are thought to be the main cause of SAD. The theory is that the lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly.
The power of sunlight
Without enough sunlight, a hormone called melatonin may go into overdrive**. Unfortunately, this can make us feel much sleepier than usual. Less sun can also mean less of the hormone serotonin which regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Sunshine can also help to stabilise our body’s internal clock and even the foods we crave; in the winter, if you find it harder to get out of bed or find yourself eating more carbohydrates, it’s probably down to (you guessed it) a shortage of rays.
Spotting the symptoms of SAD
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in usual activities
- feeling irritable
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- low self-esteem
- feeling stressed or anxious
- a reduced sex drive
- becoming less sociable
You may also:
- be less active than normal
- feel lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleep for longer than normal and find it hard to get up in the morning
- find it difficult to concentrate
- have an increased appetite – some people have a particular craving for foods containing lots of carbohydrates and end up gaining weight as a result
Help is out there
You may find that what works for one person, may not necessarily work for another. Why not try some of our tips below?
If you’re finding it difficult to cope, don’t suffer alone. Please get in touch with your GP as there are a range of services and support which may help.
Tips to try
- Try to stick to a routine and eat, exercise and sleep at the same time each day
- Aim to have plenty of sleep (at least seven and a half hours) and try to be tucked-up by 11pm but try not to lie in, no matter how tempting
- Although research is inconclusive on the power of vitamin D (also known as the Sunshine Vitamin) to treat SAD, some people report an improvement after taking a regular dose. Public Health England recommends taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily during the gloomier months so it could be worth a try
- It might feel like the last thing you want to do but try and socialise – a phone call, a Zoom session, meeting for a walk (social distancing allowing), anything you can do to connect with others could help to lift your mood, even if it’s temporary
- If you know you may find day-to-day life tough during the short winter days, think about preparing and freezing meals in advance. Eating a balanced diet will help you to stay physically well
- Exercise is proven to improve mood, but it doesn’t have to be a formal lesson or session. Dancing around the kitchen to the radio still counts as exercise! A short, simple yoga session (try Yoga with Adriene on Youtube) can help or a quick Joe Wicks blast can all be done without leaving the house and will give you a burst of the ‘feel-good’ chemicals, endorphins
- Try a SAD lamp: many people find using light therapy hugely beneficial. This involves sitting in front of a lightbox for around 30 minutes each morning. If you decide to buy a lamp, make sure that the lamp filters out UV light and is labelled UV-free
Sign up to Co-op Health for a £10 Co-op Food voucher
Colleague members with an NHS GP practice in England can claim a £10 Co-op Food voucher*** by registering with the Co-op Health App.
If you’re not already a member, make sure you join as a colleague online so you don’t miss out on your added discounts across our family of businesses.
*The Weather Channel and YouGov survey
***terms and conditions apply