Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Yep, it’s that time of year again - the nights are drawing in and all you really want to do is snuggle up in bed with your hot water bottle for a Netflix binge. Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. The truth is, darker evenings really can cause us to experience low mood, as well as lethargy, food cravings and a lack of motivation, making a day in bed seem an attractive option.
So why does this happen? If your mood takes a dive in the winter months but you tend to feel better come the spring, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or ‘SAD’. SAD is thought to be caused by the lack of exposure to natural sunlight during the winter months, when we find ourselves heading to and from work in the dark with limited sunlight exposure during the day. The severity of SAD can vary from a mild inconvenience to very serious, so it’s important that you seek advice from your GP if you’re experiencing severe symptoms of depression. For milder cases, making some simple lifestyle changes can be a big help.
1. Get outside at every opportunity!
Life can be crazy busy, but scheduling a 20-minute walk on your lunch break could go a long way. Exposure to natural light is linked to the production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that impacts mood and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. And taking the opportunity to get away from your desk and into the fresh air is a good thing; so, grab your trainers and get outside as often as you can.
2. Invest in a lightbox
A lightbox is a special kind of lamp that emits a bright light that closely mimics natural daylight. Research has had mixed results on the effectiveness of light therapy, but it’s become an increasingly popular treatment for SAD, with the greatest mood improvements reported from 30-60 minutes of light exposure at the start of each day. Try putting a lamp by your bed and sitting with the rays first thing in the morning, before you start your day.
3. Take your Vitamin D
Most of the body’s Vitamin D is synthesised when sunlight hits your bare skin. From April through to September, this works for us in the UK as the sun’s rays are nice and strong (and it’s warm enough to walk around in shorts). Weaker rays and colder weather in the autumn and winter can mean that many of us find ourselves with a Vitamin D deficiency which has been linked, in some cases, to depression. Taking a daily supplement of at least 10mg could help to keep your D levels (and your spirits!) at a healthier level. You can tweak your diet to get more Vitamin D from what you eat - particularly meat, fish and eggs - but, since food generally contains D in small quantities, a supplement is a great failsafe.
If you’re feeling a case of the winter blues, have a think about which of these tips you might be able to put into action over the coming months. You could try starting with one, or even try them all together for maximum effect. And don’t forget, you can always chat to a family member, friend or your doctor about how you’re feeling. Little things really can make a big difference.
Performance Nutritionist and Health Adviser