It is very common to overlook your own health and well being as you may be busy looking after your family. So, here are some tips to help keep you healthy and happy during the winter months.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from stress, anxiety and depression during the winter. This condition is often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD and 75% of those affected are women.
It is essential to understand what precisely SAD (1) is and also how the symptoms can be relieved naturally. The main reason people experience SAD is because there is less natural sunlight during the shorter days in winter. The lack of sunlight affects the body’s circadian rhythm and disrupts many hormones, especially serotonin. Serotonin is an important chemical neurotransmitter which regulates mood, social behavior, libido, sleep, memory and learning.
It is important to note that, whilst some people experience the ‘winter blues’, with SAD the symptoms can present in a number of ways -
- Decreased energy levels
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increase in appetite
- Decreased interest in socialising
- Decreased sex drive
- Weight gain
- Sleeping too much
As temperatures start to drop and with limited access to the outdoors, we often find that our motivation levels drop and the vast majority of us tend to stay inside and ‘hibernate’.
Here are some tips to help you overcome any symptoms of SAD –
- Make sure that you take some time each day to get outside to increase your serotonin and Vitamin D levels which will help improve your mood (2)
- Humans make 90 percent of our Vitamin D naturally from sunlight exposure to our skin as the body converts cholesterol in the skin into an active form of Vitamin D in the liver. The amount of Vitamin D produced depends on the intensity of the UVB in the sun and your skin colour
- Get your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with anxiety and depression (3) and it is widely acknowledged that many of us are deficient or have sub-optimal levels of Vitamin D. The Department of Health recommends that everyone in the UK needs a daily dose of Vitamin D for optimum health
- It's important to note that during the winter months in the UK, the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere making it impossible to produce Vitamin D from the sun. So, during the winter months, make sure you eat plenty of Vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish and eggs and supplement with Vitamin D3 where necessary
- Keep your activity levels up whether it be yoga, swimming, a walk with a friend, running or a sporting activity. Staying active has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of improving your mood (4) due to the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals which trigger a positive feeling in the body
- Ensure that your diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables to make sure you are filling your body with much needed vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which will boost your immune system. Plenty of fibre will help keep your digestive tract healthy and maintain healthy levels of good gut bacteria which are linked to a healthy immune system
- Healthy fats are essential. Foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados provide essential fatty acids to support the nervous system and brain function. Research has shown that they can help alleviate symptoms of depression (5)
- Foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, chicken, soya, bananas, beans and lentils, can help improve mood because tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin
- Keep hydrated and, in addition, avoid alcohol as it is a known depressant. Also avoid stimulants (especially after 4 pm) as the caffeine will affect your sleep
- Light box therapy has been proven to be successful in patients with SAD. This mimics natural sunlight and helps the body to absorb Vitamin D
- Sleep plays a vital role in good health and so aim for 7-8 hours per night. This will help your body to keep your hormones balanced and improve your overall physical and mental well being (6)
Symptoms of SAD and the winter blues can be significantly improved by making positive changes to your diet, taking daily exercise and getting natural sunlight.