Dark cold winter mornings and nights, money worries, family problems combined with all the seasonal ailments can make this time of year a living hell for some people, and if we are truly honest most of us just don’t like it. Therefore it will be no surprise to you that the winter months lead to a sizeable increase in the number of people experiencing the symptoms of and being treated for some level of depression, particularly seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Mental health issues have always had a stigma attached to them, but there is an ever increasing effort being made to make people aware that it is ok to be mentally ill, and that you are not going crazy they just have an ailment that is affecting the brain and its chemicals, and speaking from experience the sooner that it is treated the better the outcome!
So why does depression increase in the winter months?
Well here comes the science bit. Typically in winter months or “the dark months” depression increases due to a large number of people being diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is depression triggered by lack of sunlight which throws our brain chemistry into disarray.
Despite the fact that millions of us say we've suffered a winter-related low mood, it can feel as though the winter blues is just a myth. But there's sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods.
Most scientists believe that the problem is related to the way the body responds to daylight. Alison Kerry, from the mental health charity MIND, says:
“With SAD, one theory is that light entering the eye causes changes in hormone levels in the body. In our bodies, light functions to stop the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making us wake up.It’s thought that SAD sufferers are affected by shorter daylight hours in the winter. They produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression.”
If you’re going through a bout of winter blues, lack of daylight is probably playing a part.
So how do we beat the blues then? More pills??
Well actually there are three methods that you can use that do not require medication to control the symptoms and we are going to take a look at these next.
STEP 1: GET MORE LIGHT
If the winter blues is about lack of daylight, it’s no surprise that treatment involves getting more light into your life. If you feel low in winter, get outside as often as you can, especially on bright days. Sitting by a window can also help.
You might be tempted to escape the dark winter days with a holiday somewhere sunny. This can be effective for some, but other SAD sufferers have found that their condition gets worse when they return to the UK.
Light therapy is often used to treat SAD. This involves sitting in front of or beneath a light box that produces a very bright light. Your GP can give you more information.
STEP 2: EAT YOURSELF HAPPY
It’s also important to eat well during the winter. Winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and bread, but don’t forget to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. This will make you feel a little more energised and able to deal with the daily grind.
STEP 3: GET OUT AND ACTIVE
There is another weapon against the seasonal slump…..keeping active.
Dr Andrew McCulloch is former chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, which produced a report on the mental health benefits of exercise. He says:
“There’s convincing evidence that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week is effective against depression and anecdotal evidence that lighter exercise will have a beneficial effect, too.
“If you have a tendency towards SAD, outdoor exercise will have a double benefit, because you’ll gain some daylight.”
Activity is believed to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain. It can also help by providing a pleasant change of scene, and helping you to meet new people.
If you’re suffering from SAD, your GP might be able to refer you to an exercise scheme. But if winter blues is your problem, why not get out and exercise independently? The charity Mind says research has shown that a one-hour walk in the middle of the day is an effective way to beat the winter blues.
So in closing I all I can say is TRY these methods and see how they work for you. There is no magic pill or technique to beating depression (trust me I know) so the best piece of advice I can give you is if it makes you feel better DO it!
If you need help ASK for it my personal thoughts on this are “a battle shared is a battle more easily won”.
If you feel you are struggling with depression and you have any thoughts of SELF HARM or SUICIDE then PLEASE PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR GP, CALL THE SAMARITANS, CALL MIND, DIAL 999 WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO TO GET HELP! DO NOT SUFFER ALONE. I have attached contact numbers and details at the end of this blog for you information.
Until next time keep smiling and stay healthy.
LINK FOR EMERGENCY PHONE SERVICES: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/helplines.htm