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Paul Abraham: Feeling S.A.D? Six tips that may help you cope

By Paul Abraham of

If shorter days and changes in the weather deplete your energy and make you feel blue, you’ve got classic symptoms of a seasonal mood disorder.  

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of seasonal depression triggered by the change in seasons that occurs primarily in winter.

Why do some people get SAD? Experts aren’t certain, but some think that seasonal changes disrupt the circadian rhythm: the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours, causing us to feel energised and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times.

Another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being. People with a family history of depression or bipolar disorder may be particularly susceptible.

It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people’s ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work. 

Here are six tips on how to cope better if you’re a sufferer:

1. Try a light box

Light therapy boxes give off light that mimics sunshine and can help in the recovery from the effects of SAD. The light from the therapy boxes is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs, and it’s provided in different wavelengths.

Typically, if you have SAD, you sit in front of a light box for about 30 minutes a day. This will stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms and suppress its natural release of melatonin.

Most people find light therapy to be most effective if used when they first get up in the morning. Many light boxes are available on the internet with prices starting from £20.

A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that one week of light therapy may be as effective as two, though most people continue light therapy throughout the entire season that they’re affected.

2. Exercise

As it does with other forms of depression exercise can help alleviate seasonal affective disorder, too.

Outdoor exercise would be most helpful but with the social restrictions due to the coronavirus this may not be possible.

If you can’t exercise outside, then use a stationary bike or just march on the spot close to a window if possible. Another bonus is that exercise can also help offset the weight gain that is common with seasonal affective disorder.  

Always remember to seek medical advice before starting any exercise programme.

3. Sunshine

If you have SAD, it helps if you can get outdoors as much as possible and take advantage of what sunlight there is.

If you live where it’s cold, be sure to wrap up well, but take a stroll around the block at noon or soon after — that’s when the sun is brightest.

Also, when you’re indoors, keep your blinds or curtains open to let as much natural light in as you can. You want to be in bright environments whenever possible, according to many experts.

4. Schedule

People who live with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help all alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression.

Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times, while eating at regular intervals can help you watch your diet and not overeat. Many people who live with SAD find they gain weight in the winter.

5. Journaling

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can have a positive effect on your mood. It can help you get some of your negative feelings out of your system.

Plan to write for about 20 minutes on most days of the week. Include your thoughts, feelings, and concerns. The best time is at night so that you can reflect on all that happened in the last 24 hours.

6. Vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to seasonal affective disorder in research reported in 2014 in the journal Medical Hypotheses.

And also a study published in 2014 the journal Nutrients found that people who took vitamin D supplements saw significant improvement in their depression.

Talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels and whether supplements would be right for you.

Paul Abraham lives in Bramley. You can read more of his regular WLD wellbeing column here.


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