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15 Tips to Tackle Winter Blues 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

As the nights grow longer and the cold weather creeps in, you may find yourself with a case of the “winter blues”. Some experience this intensely but may not realise that they’re suffering Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D).   

S.A.D is a form of depression linked to the change in weather, temperature, and length of day between the seasons. Although it is possible to have symptoms worsen during the summer, the majority of people find that their symptoms flare during autumn and winter. That is why it is commonly known as “winter depression”.  

This disorder can impact relationships, social life, work, education, and ability to function. Though you might feel alone, according to NHS inform, 2 million people across the UK are affected by this disorder every year. 

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Unfortunately, doctors don’t have a definitive answer. However, the general consensus is that a lack of sunlight in winter can cause the psychological and physical effects seen. According to the NHS, it causes: 

  • Disruption to your body’s circadian rhythm. Your body uses sunlight to regulate your sleep routine. When the sun rises and the day begins, your body knows you need to be alert, awake, and energised. At night, your body prepares to go to bed, leaving you feeling relaxed, sleepy, and lethargic. This means that when the nights grow longer in winter, your body has a harder time regulating without the sunlight, causing low energy and lethargy.
  • The increased production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is closely associated with your sleep cycle. At night your body naturally increases the level of it, causing you to feel sleepy. Due to the long nights in autumn and winter, your system overproduces the hormone resulting in persistent tiredness.
  • The reduced production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that your brain produces. It affects your mood, appetite, and energy levels. The amount your body produces is affected by sunlight. When you don’t have enough, it contributes to symptoms of depression.

Some resources about S.A.D cite low levels of Vitamin D as an additional cause. Our bodies create Vitamin D by absorbing sunlight through our skin. Autumn and winter stop our bodies from being able to do this effectively due to the increased hours of darkness. The NHS recommends that everyone takes a Vitamin D supplement in winter, but they only list it as a way to maintain bone health. However, recent studies cited in this BBC article, have linked low levels of Vitamin D to symptoms of depression and fatigue. 

What are the symptoms? Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Though depression and S.A.D have similarities, there are distinguishing differences between them. Depression is persistent and can last for weeks, months or years, whereas S.A.D’s symptoms change in severity from season to season. A person with Seasonal Affective Disorder will find that at certain times of the year, their symptoms disappear entirely. Other than that, symptoms can vary from person to person. Here is a list of the most common associated symptoms of SAD: 

  • Low mood
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of despair, stress, guilt, and worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of interest in previous activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
  • Lethargy
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disrupted sleep-cycle
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Headaches or muscle pain
  • Decreased libido

When you are experiencing a period of severe symptoms, it can feel like they will never end. Please know that help is always available when you feel like this (please see below for help and signposting). 

What are the main treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Treating S.A.D begins with a trip to speak to your GP. Through them, you can access medical treatments that reduce symptoms. Treatments for SAD on the NHS include: 

  • Light therapy
  • Talking therapies
  • Antidepressant medication

The NHS recommends that in addition to these, there are lifestyle changes you can make that reduce the effects of and manage symptoms. 

15 Tips to Tackle the Winter Blues

1. Plan ahead

Being aware of your key symptoms allows you to prepare ahead of time. For example, if you know that you often become isolated and withdrawn, you can arrange for a friend or family member to call you during your day or go with you on a walk. 

2. Organise mood-boosting activities

When you’re feeling low, it can be difficult to find the motivation to do things, but these can be planned ahead of time if you know you won’t feel like doing them in the future. Get them in the planner now and keep finding time to do activities you enjoy. 

3. Make time to talk to and visit friends and family

It can be as simple as a phone call. Socialising is good for you, even when it doesn’t feel like it is. 

4. Go for a fifteen-minute walk every day

This will increase your serotonin and Vitamin D levels. 

5. Open your curtains

Letting the light in during the day helps regulate your body clock. 

6. Create and stick to a routine

A strict routine can help you to regulate your body clock. 

7. Try a dawn-simulating alarm clock

These can trick your body into thinking it is daytime on a dark morning and help to trigger serotonin production and reduce melatonin. 

8. Make sure to exercise and eat healthily

These increase endorphins and maintain your physical health. 

9. Take a holiday

If you can afford to, try booking a break somewhere sunny. 

10. Avoid alcohol

It can be tempting to drink, especially during the party season. Alcohol is a depressant and can heighten your symptoms the morning after. 

11. Take Vitamin D supplements

Some research indicates taking them can elevate energy levels and help improve your mood. 

12. Purchase a S.A.D lamp

These trick your body into thinking it is daytime. They are most effective when used in the morning for an hour. They trigger your body to produce serotonin and decrease the production of melatonin. 

13. Access peer support and help

Recognising that it’s ok to not be ok is an important step for your mental health. Here are some places you could visit for additional support: Samaritans, Young Minds and Shout 

Lowered temperatures can contribute to depression. If switching on the heating is too expensive, try drinking hot drinks, wearing warm clothes and shoes, layering blankets, and using a hot water bottle. 

Today’s Guest Blogger

Thank you to Millie Fuller, our guest blogger today, for sharing her advice on managing Seasonal Affective Disorder this winter.

Help and support

If you are struggling to cope with your mental health in general, please talk to your GP. If you’re in a crisis, treat it as an emergency. Call 999 immediately or The Samaritans, FREE on 116 123.Alternatively, call Dorset’s 24hr Helpline called Connection on 0800 652 0190

Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your wellbeing. The group offers peer support and helps to reduce stigma by normalizing conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here. You’ll find links for 1-2-1 and groups mental health support we offer here. 

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