Seasonal affective disorder: How to beat the winter blues

Our Wellbeing Expert, Sam Sargent, provides three simple tips you can integrate in to your life today.

As the seasons change and our days get shorter, it’s not uncommon for many of us to suffer the ‘winter blues’. But what do we do when those winter blues develop into full blown seasonal affective disorder?

The Mayo Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that's related to the change in season. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms will start and end around the same time every year - starting in autumn and continuing through the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

While seasonal affective disorder is common in certain parts of the northern hemisphere where exposure to light is limited, down here in Australia it is rare due to less extreme hours of darkness and exposure to an adequate amount of light. However, it is important not to brush off those annual ‘winter blues’ feelings, especially if there is a possibility that you are indeed suffering from SAD. 

The following steps can be implemented in to your life starting from today, to help elevate your mood and motivation throughout the winter months, whether you have a case of the winter blues or full-blown SAD.

1. Sensible sunshine

The first and most important step is to enjoy sensible sunshine in the early or late hours of the day. Research shows that sunshine - particularly the vitamin D it offers - is recommended in the treatment of depression, as well as treating psoriasis, eczema and acne. Exposure to daylight is also important for regulating circadian rhythms - our internal body clock that when disrupted can result in sleep disorders.

2. Get moving

Exercise can work wonders to elevate your mood, especially if combined with natural light and nature – such as taking a brisk walk each morning outdoors. Exercise sends a rush of endorphins through the body, improves blood flow to the brain, and helps to reduce stress levels, to name just a few benefits.

3. Improve your Diet

Eat a balanced, nutritious diet based on organic and biodynamic wholefoods: fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. Choose a wide variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables that are in season. Eat good fats such as avocados, extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil, nuts and seeds. Eat probiotic-rich foods to improve your digestive and immune health. Choose natural sea salt. Drink water and herbal teas. Avoid too much alcohol, caffeine, smoking, table salt, refined sugar, processed foods and take-out food with added chemicals and processed ingredients. Also, steer clear of soft drinks, cordial, bottled juices and vitamin waters that are full of sugar and artificial additives. Taking these steps will help regulate your energy and your mood, stopping the emotional rollercoaster.

Finally, if you are still feeling down, please don’t hesitate to seek help from a counsellor or health care professional, like at Beyond Blue. There are limits to self-help and sometimes we need a little helping hand to help us get out of that funk.

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