The clocks have gone back, the trees are turning colour and Christmas decorations are appearing in the shops. Autumn is here and for some people this is the season of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Symptoms of SAD include:
- Lack of energy and feeling sleepy during the day
- Poor quality or interrupted sleep.
- Loss of sex drive
- Loss of pleasure or interest in normal activities
- Mood swings, irritability and low mood
- Cravings for carbohydrates leading to weight gain.
These symptoms are the result of lower light levels during the winter months which causes an increase in the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night), and a reduction of serotonin (the Happiness hormone). These changes disrupt your internal body clock which regulates important bodily functions such as appetite, digestion, sleep quality and mood.
I have experienced mild symptoms of SAD since I was a teenager. Every year it creeps up on me and I wonder why I suddenly feel miserable and have no energy.
One way to boost your exposure to natural light and reduce the effect of SAD is to use a full spectrum light box. These lights provide summertime levels of light and have been shown to be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases of SAD. Light boxes are available from specialist retailers.
If you are experiencing mild symptoms there are other practical things you can do to improve your mood:
1 Take a 30 minute brisk walk outside around the middle of the day. The exercise will make you feel better and you can get the best of the daylight. Research has shown that a 15 minute walk can significantly reduce daytime snacking.
2 Boost your mood with healthy food. The food you eat can have a negative of positive effect of your mood and can increase or decrease mood swings. Some simple guidelines:
- For an energy boost include lean proteins in your diet such as: cheese, milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, beans, fermented soya products (miso, tofu and tempeh), white poultry and seafood.
- Avoid eating simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and sugary foods. These foods will cause your blood sugars to spike and fall rapidly causing mood swings. Instead eat complex carbohydrates including vegetables and fruit.
- Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine suppresses the production of serotonin and stresses your nervous system. Remember that caffeine is not just in coffee, it is also in black and green tea, chocolate and energy drinks.
- Consider taking a vitamin supplement. At this time of year you may need to supplement your diet with vitaminB12 and D. Vitamin D is predominantly made by your body when it is exposed to natural sunlight which is in shorter supply during the winter months. Low levels of Vitamin B12 in the blood have been linked to depression, though the exact cause is still unknown. You can top up by eating fish, shell fish, fortified cereals, eggs, yoghurt, and milk.
- Maintain your social contact during the winter months. People with strong social contacts tend to stay happier and healthier and cope better with life’s challenges. Being on social media is not sufficient so contact your friends and arrange a regular get together. If your friends live at a distance, could you enroll for an evening class or get involved in a hobby group?
- Commit a random of act of kindness every day. Showing kindness and compassion to others is an excellent way of boosting your own feelings of well being and strengthening your emotional resilience.
- Do something that makes you smile or laugh for five minutes three times a day as this will help to boost your levels of serotonin and immunise you against stress. You could watch a funny video on YouTube or your favourite comedy on the television. But the best method is to have a laugh with a member of your family or a friend or colleague.
If you are experiencing prolonged or intense symptoms of SAD it is important to consult your medical practitioner.
For practical techniques to help with SAD contact me to find out how I can help you.
For more information on SAD see http://www.sad.org.uk/