Home > Health > Mind > Coping With SAD and Winter Blues Season

SAD, winter blues… whichever term you tend to use, most of us have experienced either at some point in our lives. When the clocks go back, and autumn/winter sets in, for a significant portion of the population it signals the unwelcome arrival of an unshakable sadness that just never gets any easier with each passing year. When you add a baby into the mix, and the accompanying sleepless nights, isolation and exhaustions often felt by new mums, the combination can be truly distressing.

In this article we’ll be talking to medical experts and wellness practitioners to discover practical steps you can take to stay upbeat and stay connected with friends, fellow mums and loved ones to avoid S.A.D taking root.

What causes SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a term believed to have been coined in the 80s by experts at the National Instituted for Mental Health and is a very specific condition where sadness and depression occurs usually during the autumn and winter months. Winter blues tends to be used interchangeably with SAD, and although it’s closely associated, it is in fact a milder version of the disorder and is characterised by generally feeling low as opposed to feeling depressed. While researchers can’t pinpoint the exact cause of seasonal sadness, most experts agree that the lack of sunlight and the accompanying mood booster serotonin causes our moods to plummet during the winter. Lack of serotonin also impacts our quality of sleep and hormones, thus creating a vicious cycle. Priory Consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani says, “It is well recognised that SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight during autumn and winter months, which can affect the levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain that influence mood. During the night, the brain releases melatonin which contributes to making us feel drowsy and induces sleep. At daybreak, the effect of bright light, coupled with the natural rhythms of the brain, suppresses melatonin. In those susceptible to SAD, not being exposed to sufficient light, on dull winter days, can lead to the development of the symptoms of SAD.” The good news is there are ways to combat both S.A.D and winter blues by taking proactive steps towards safeguarding and prioritising your mental health.

1. Get out even for 15 minutes

Almost every medical expert agrees that going out for walks is one of the most effective ways to prevent conditions like winter blues and depression. However, we are quite aware that when you have a baby or toddler at home oftentimes a simple task like getting everybody dressed and out the house seems insurmountable. We know how tempting it is to just stay at home, get on top of the housework, and stay in the cosy confines of your home, but it’s so worth getting some fresh air and a dose of vitamin D from the little sunlight we’re likely to get during the winter. Research has shown time and time again that even 15-20 minutes of natural sunlight will help to reduce the symptoms of SAD.

2. Stay connected

Loneliness and feelings of isolation can have such an impact on mums at the best of times, and that increases ten-fold in the winter months when we’re less likely to participate in regular outdoor social activities with other mums like park meet ups with the kids, day trips, and fun playdates. Dr Natasha Bijlani states the importance of staying connected even if digitally to stave off sadness. She says, “Be sociable where you can, even if that means remotely. Planning evenings or an afternoon talking with a friend, even if on the phone or Zoom, can be a really good way to give structure to your day and avoid loneliness and negative thoughts or feelings.”

3. Talk to your GP

As mentioned, there are varying levels to seasonal affective disorder and winter blues, some may just suffer a slight dip in mood, while it may impact others more severely and lead to mental health challenges. If you’re feeling as if you’re veering towards depression and you just can’t shake it off, then it’s crucial you get in touch with your GP. Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at the digital healthcare provider, Livi, says, “You should speak to your GP if your symptoms are starting to affect your day-to-day activities and you’re struggling to cope. Arranging a consultation with your GP where you feel most comfortable, whether that’s visiting your surgery or booking a digital appointment, can help you identify the causes and access support and treatment.” She continues, “”If SAD is diagnosed, lifestyle measures such as exercising, using a light-box, eating nutritious food and sleeping properly may work for some people. For others, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling can help, and, in severe cases, antidepressants may be necessary.”

4. Up your vitamin intake

Sunlight contains the feel-good hormone serotonin which does wonders for our physical and mental wellbeing. The lack of sunshine goes some way in explaining why we feel sad and low during the winter, but with vitamin D supplementation you can help to replicate the goodness we soak up from sun rays. “When we are exposed to sunlight our body makes Vitamin D,” says Claire Snowdon-Darling, Head of The College of Functional Wellness and founder of kinesiology clinic, Balanced Wellness. “When we have less exposure to sunlight, we make less vitamin D and a deficiency has been associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms. Check with your Doctor or healthcare provider to make sure that Vitamin D is safe for you to take. If so, the most absorbable form is Vitamin D3.”

5. Cut down on carbs and caffeine

Grabbing for the biscuit tin or a buttery bagel is quite often our go-to foods when we’re in the midst of tending to the kids during our day-to-day routines. But try to minimise your intake of carb-heavy foods and replace with more nutritious choices to minimise the winter blues. “Despite our desire to consume more carbohydrates and comforting food in winter it is essential that we eat carefully”, says Claire Snowdon-Darling. “Avoiding processed foods which have been linked to low mood is important. The best thing we can do is make sure every meal has a good quality protein source and fats such as butter and olive oil alongside our green leafy veg.”

6. Curate a bedtime routine

Sleep may seem like a mythical concept right now if you’ve just had a baby or have a toddler that’s still not sleeping through the night. That’s why it’s important to focus on the quality of sleep opposed to quantity to prevent you feeling tired, teary and prone to emotional outbursts. “Consider purchasing a scented candle, pillow spray or incense that you only use at night-time to help you associate a specific scent with sleep” says Jessica Hanley, founder of homeware and loungewear brand Piglet in Bed. “Opt for calming essential oils such as organic lavender, frankincense and chamomile, all of which promote restful sleep and mood improvement. Piglet in Bed’s Calming Room and Pillow Mist is a great option for those who prefer natural scents which are free of parabens and artificial fragrances.”

7. Consider light therapy

Light therapy works by artificially mimicking the light we get when we’re outdoors, and it’s a very well-established treatment for S.A. D. Claire Snowdon-Darling, Head of The College of Functional Wellness and founder of kinesiology clinic, Balanced Wellness, says, “Using a full spectrum lightbox is very effective for SAD. These are available online and range in price. Using a lightbox for 20 minutes a day can be very effective at minimising symptoms. The full spectrum light mimics sunlight without the UV.”

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