If The Winter Months Dampen Your Spirit Then Seasonal Affective Disorder May Be To Blame – Here Are The Latest Science-Backed Hacks To Combat It

As the cold nights draw in, you might find that you’re more likely to stay on the sofa and binge Netflix than go and socialise. It’s a normal reaction to a change in the seasons, but in some, low moods and reclusiveness are actually triggered by SAD, AKA seasonal affective disorder. A form of depression that’s triggered by a major shift in the weather and daylight hours, SAD is a very real condition that can raise stress levels and make existing mental health conditions worse. There are, though, some new and innovative ways to lessen the impact that the change of seasons can have...

SAD Is A Form Of Depression
There’s an important distinction to make between the ‘winter blues’ and SAD. It’s almost universal to feel a bit down as the long, hot days of summer are replaced by gloomier conditions. SAD, though, is a form of depression thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance – namely, a dip in serotonin – and a disrupted circadian rhythm. It can majorly affect mood and energy levels, and make day-to-day life a whole lot harder.

It’s More Common Than You Might Think
In the UK, SAD affects approximately one in 15 people, and 4-6% of the US population will feel its effects this winter. It’s most common in young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, and women are four times more likely to suffer than men. SAD can, however, affect anyone – with symptoms ranging from feelings of fatigue and apathy, to anxiety and generally reclusive behaviour.

Light Therapy Is The Go To For Many
Depressive symptoms in winter are often triggered by the fact sunlight is at a premium. That may seem overly simplistic, but the sun’s rays are loaded with vitamin D, which studies have shown can reduce the symptoms of depression, as well as contribute to overall immune health.’

‘One solution is to have ‘light therapy” – one of the most frequent treatments for SAD. This involves a light box being worn on the head, generally for 30 to 60 minutes each day. Doing so can help return the brain to its usual circadian rhythm, although it’s worth noting that studies are limited and you should consult a health professional before taking this approach.

Opening Up Is Surprisingly Effective
A new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests speaking about SAD – a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – can be an even more effective method than light therapy. For the study, each of the 177 participant, all of whom suffered from SAD, were treated using either light therapy or CBT. After two winters of treatment, only 27% of the people who had CBT suffered a recurrence of depressive symptoms, compared to almost half of those who had light box therapy.

Cold Showers Can Lift The Lethargy
Cold showers might not seem that cheerful, but research into the effect of chilly water on depression has thrown up an increasing number of surprising results. A study published in Medical Hypotheses, suggests taking the temperature of your daily shower down a notch. Exposure to extremely cold water increases the blood flow of feelgood beta-endorphins, as well as noradrenaline – a stress hormone that raises heart rate and blood pressure. The resulting high-energy sensation – so the theory goes – could have an antidepressant effect.

Make Winter Worthwhile
Any form of depression is a complex and highly personal condition for which quick fixes rarely exist. That said, if SAD leaves you with low spirits, one way of combating these – even if only temporarily – could be to get into the winter outdoors. In summer, it’s easy to have a good time by simply spending time outdoors. In the winter this requires a bit more effort, but finding opportunities for fun, with ice skating, skiing and winter hiking, can shift your perception of the cold, dark days and make winter a little more bearable – after all the sun does come out sometimes!

WHAT NEXT? Watch this video, which explains how to shift your thinking various cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques.

Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.