Eat more protein: Salmon, red meat, eggs, nuts and seeds are rich in the essential amino acid tryptophan, which helps the body to produce the feel-good chemical serotonin, which is thought to drop in winter and contribute to SAD. This is especially important if you’re vegetarian or vegan. A Scandinavian study found that non-meat eaters are four times more likely to suffer SAD so it’s important to eat plenty of plant proteins, such as tofu, beans and legumes.
See the light: Timed, daily exposure to bright artificial light using a light box has long been considered the gold-standard treatment for SAD. The idea is that it mimics sunlight and, when used first thing in the morning, simulates a summer dawn – jump-starting the circadian clock. Studies show 53 percent of those with SAD experience complete relief from their symptoms. And, if you work indoors, open curtains or blinds and sit by a window if you can, advises Fatmata Kamara, Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK. “As well as making your environment bright, you could also try bringing the outside world in with some indoor plants.”
Snack attack: Snacking on the right kinds of carbohydrates can relieve some of the symptoms of SAD, according to Dr Judith Wurtman, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet. Research suggests that around 30g of “good” carbs per day, in the form of popcorn, pretzels or wheat squares, was enough to produce the mood-enhancing serotonin you need.
Don’t hunker down: We’ve all had the urge to cancel plans when it’s miserable outside but don’t talk yourself out of something that will make you feel better. Relationships are vitally important if you’re experiencing low mood.
Try talk therapies: Researchers at the University of Vermont, US, suggest that talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are at least as effective as light in the long term. CBT involves recognising and changing negative thoughts that feed sad moods and engaging in pleasurable activities that counteract depressed moods. The study found that, although CBT involves a bit more effort, it teaches people to reframe their thoughts about winter so they can overcome SAD year after year.
Self soothe: While there’s no clear evidence yet that cold temperatures contribute towards the development of SAD, some people with the disorder say their symptoms improve when they keep warm. Take a candlelit bath, adding rose, lavender, bergamot, or chamomile essential oils to lift your mood. Consider an electric blanket too – no one relishes slipping between icy sheets in the depths of winter so turn bedtime into a cosy treat.
Limit your sugar intake: Contrary to popular opinion, studies have found that scoffing refined carbs and sugary foods has virtually no mood-boosting effect and leaves you feeling more fatigued afterwards.
Make exercise a priority: It may be the last thing you feel like doing but it will energise you, says Dr Guy Meadows of The Sleep School, thesleepschool.org. “Elevating metabolism and increasing blood flow to the brain, it boosts endorphins.” Studies have shown those who take a one-hour walk in daylight show improvements in SAD symptoms. An hour of outside activity had equivalent benefits to 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. However, avoid outdoor exercise when it is dark as studies suggest it may delay the release of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
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