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Feeling sad? Or caught the Winter Blues?

19 June 2019

Winter is well and truly here. For some of us, that means hot chocolates, cozy nights by the fireplace and weekends under the doona binge watching Netflix. But for many of us, it means long, dreary days – and feelings of lethargy and sadness. If this sounds familiar, you may be susceptible to the ‘Winter Blues’, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What exactly is SAD?

SAD is a mood disorder that typically hits at wintertime every year. As the name suggests, a person suffering from SAD will feel particularly gloomy during the colder months.

While the shorter, darker days can take a toll on us all, a person suffering from SAD will struggle to stabilise their mood and find joy in activities they used to like.

Some specific symptoms of SAD include oversleeping, constantly craving carbs, feeling heavy in your limbs and losing interest in intimacy.

What causes SAD?

Sunlight plays a crucial role in regulating our hormones. When we get less sunlight in winter, our bodies produce less melatonin – the all-important hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles.

Reduced sun exposure also limits our production of serotonin, which affects our mood, appetite and sleep patterns. The lack of sunlight can also disrupt our body clock.

This combination of imbalanced hormones and a jolted body clock can lead to SAD.

How do I know if I have SAD?

It’s common to feel a bit bluer during the cooler months. But how do you know when your gloom is cause for concern?

If you can relate to at least four of the following symptoms during winter, you may suffer from SAD:

  • Feeling less energetic
  • Needing more sleep
  • Craving sweets and starches more often
  • Gaining weight
  • Consistently feeling down in the dumps
  • Performing poorly at work and in other activities
  • Wanting to withdraw socially

Ultimately, the tipping point is when your mood stops you from enjoying life. If you’re unable to complete your usual daily activities because of your sad state, then it’s probably time to talk to a professional.

5 ways to ease your SAD symptoms

If you think you have SAD, your first step should be seeing a psychologist. A professional can give you specialised advice and develop a treatment plan tailored to you. In the meantime however, here are some things you can do to reduce your SAD symptoms.

1. Take melatonin supplements

A natural hormone produced in the brain, melatonin helps control your daily sleep cycles. But our bodies tend to make less melatonin during the shorter, darker days, making us feel gloomier and grumpier.

To correct this imbalance, you can try taking melatonin supplements. Research reveals that melatonin can help improve your sleep and mood. But make sure you speak to your GP first.

2. Get a light therapy box

The best available treatment for SAD is light therapy. That’s where you expose yourself to artificial light from a light therapy box (available online with prices ranging from $50 – 150).

It’s a great way to increase your body’s production of melatonin and serotonin.

To enjoy the benefits, place a light therapy box two ruler lengths away from your eyes. You can sit in front of it for 20-60 minutes. But like anything, consistency is key to seeing results. Also, be sure to consult your GP before you begin.

3. Increase exercise and social interaction

Exercising and spending time with friends can do wonders for your mood. So why not combine the two by going for a run or short walk with a friend?

While it might take some extra effort to get active during winter, it’s exactly when your body needs that special boost of endorphins.

4. Chase sunshine

Literally. If you see sunshine outside, soak it up!

It doesn’t have to be for long. But just a little exposure to sun in the overcast months can improve your mood greatly. If you have to stay indoors, try sitting by a window to let the sunshine hit your body.

5. Practice relaxation or mindfulness techniques

We know that mindfulness can help decrease depressive symptoms, while improving our overall health.

Practising relaxation or mindfulness techniques can therefore be a great tool to cope with Winter Blues. And it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Even 10 minutes a day can improve your cognition and self-regulation.

All you need is a comfortable space and quiet environment. However, if you’d like guided meditations, apps such as Headspace and Calm are worth a try.

Need a tailored treatment plan to beat your Winter Blues? Our psychologists are here to help. Call us on 1300 995 636 today.