Winter Wellbeing: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
We all know that the physical and the mental are interconnected. As the frost falls and sunny days become gold dust, it’s important to understand how the changing seasons can have a noticeable effect on both body and mind. We’ve explained here the best ways to physically care for yourself in the face of lack of sun, but what about mentally?
For some people, managing the winter months might be as simple as breaking up the dark with twinkly lights, mulled wine and plenty of Christmassy cosiness. But if, year-on-year, you find it tricky to keep your physical and mental health in good shape once the clocks go back, you’re not alone.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that people experience during certain times of the year depending on the season and weather, often during winter time as the days get shorter and the weather more temperamental. While everybody feels perhaps a bit sluggish on an average gloomy day in January, people who are affected by SAD experience significant mental and physical symptoms including low mood, carbohydrate cravings, hyperphagia (excessive eating), anxiety, irritability, weight gain, and lethargy.
When symptoms like these can noticeably impact quality of life for months at a time each year, it is vital to have an idea of what small habits you can include in your day-to-day life to keep your mind and body as healthy, invigorated and peaceful as possible.
- Keep mornings light with a dawn simulator alarm clock that bathes your bedroom in simulated sunlight in the thirty minutes leading up to your wake-up time, waking you gradually and naturally as the light builds, and so staves off the dark wintry mornings to start the day as positively as possible.
- Invest in a SAD light therapy box, which can be used for 20 to 60 minutes a day depending on your personal experience. Lightboxes of 10,000 lux that are specifically designed for light therapy, or phototherapy, have been proven to help symptoms of SAD with daily use through the winter months, by providing artificially produced sunlight that filters out 99% of harmful ultraviolet rays. All you need to do is place the lightbox two feet away from your face at a 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock angle. Pair your lightbox-time with your morning routine so that it becomes a natural part of your day; simply switching it on while you answer your emails, put on makeup or eat breakfast could enormously improve your mindset for the day.
- We’ve previously sung the praises of meditation and the effect it can have on your mental wellbeing year-round, and it can be especially helpful when managing the psychological effects of SAD in the form of breathing in sunlight. Spending just 15 minutes outside in the morning and performing a mindfulness ritual that helps you feel more connected to the sunlight can have fantastic benefits. It can be as easy as facing the sun and practising a breathing exercise, visualising the sunlight flowing to your lungs and being absorbed by your body and mind as you inhale.
- The quality of our diet is the catalyst for all our mental and physical wellbeing. It’s easy to give into the SAD carbohydrate cravings that set in or the impulse to overeat in the search for energy, but the physiological effects of doing so can actually make symptoms feel more overwhelming. Focus on making sure your diet is packed out with all the vitamins and nutrients you need to bolster yourself against the effects of SAD, such as eating plenty of protein and foods rich in Vitamin D and B such as wild salmon, green vegetables, legumes and fruit juices. If you struggle to keep vitamin levels up through diet, consider a vitamin supplement in consultation with your GP.
- Lastly, exercise is always an excellent way to boost energy, regulate hormone levels and stabilise mental wellbeing, especially when it comes to SAD. It can also help provide fantastic structure when the evenings feel long and lethargic, and become a new hobby which buoys you through the winter. Set aside just half an hour to reconnect brain and body, get your heart-rate pumping, or even simply just go for a walk during your lunch time in the precious daylight hours, and your mind and body will both thank you.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than just ‘winter blues’ and is as valid and worthy of treatment as any other mental health disorders. We at Natural Fit believe in synchronicity between mind and body, and are therefore giving our all to support and restore your natural potential.
Revitalise the mind with a guided exercise programme and nutrition plan that is tailored to your individual needs.
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