Seasonal affective disorder: Don't be SAD

We all know what’s coming – the nights are starting to draw in, and soon, for many of us, it will be dark when we get up, and dark when we leave work in the evening. The temperature is on its way down, and more often than not it’s grey and wet. Depression is something that can hit at any time, but seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is characterised by a worsening of symptoms during the winter months.

As the seasons change, and as the days get shorter and darker, the symptoms of depression can start to creep up on you: You notice your energy levels are lower; your sleep patterns are affected, and either you want to sleep too much, or can’t get enough; you crave ‘comfort foods’ (usually carbs) and perhaps start to put on weight; life feels like a bit of a grind and your usual ways to blow off steam lose some of their shine; you feel, well, a bit SAD! I have good news though. There are several ways you can help increase your mood during the winter months:

Eat enough protein

Hormones and neurotransmitters are made from the proteins we eat, so it is important to eat good quality protein every day. Grass fed meat, free range chicken and eggs, fish, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, bio-yoghurt, cheese – all these foods are protein-rich. Try to include some with each meal and snack (but watch portion size – a palm sized portion is usually enough). 

Bright colours

Eat a wide range of colourful vegetables and fruit to keep up levels of important B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc – really, the list is endless. If you like to eat in season this can still be done: Think beetroot, carrots, kale, leeks, squashes, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, tomatoes, apples, pears, blackberries, plum and watercress.    

Brains like fats

Make sure you are eating enough brain-healthy essential fatty acids. Oily fish is the best source, although vegetarians can pick it up from flaxseed, hempseed, walnuts and echium oil. Also include things like avocado and olive oil in your diet.

Don’t forget vitamin D

Consider supplementing vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels are thought to be a problem for many people in the UK. The Department of Health recommends that everyone should be supplementing 10mcg of vitamin D during the winter months (if you are taking medication do check with your GP first though).

Reduce the stimulants

Think carefully about your intake of stimulants: Sugar, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all impact on how you feel. When you eat sugary foods, your body has to pump out insulin to reduce the effect of the sugar in your body. This process can lead to dips in energy and mood, and encourage weight gain.  Putting on weight itself can make you feel miserable! Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can mimic the stress response and contribute to low mood. Keep them to a minimum and see if you notice a difference.

Get moving

Try to do some exercise as many days as possible. Yes, getting outside during the winter isn’t as easy (or as much fun) as during the summer, but a 20 minute walk or yoga session (or whatever exercise you like), each day can do wonders for improving your mood. Not only that, exercise helps regulate insulin levels.

Don’t let the darkness drag you down. You don’t have to spend the winter months feeling low you know! Commit to making a few small changes, and reap the benefits.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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