There’s no denying it: it’s autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, which means the days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer, the clocks will change at the end of the month and temperatures are only dropping lower and lower.
As the leaves fall and a near constant drizzle sets in on days that are overcast at best, people’s moods can drop as well.
Do you know people who seem to deflate in winter? Who lose their energy as soon as the clocks change? Maybe you’ve felt the “Winter Blues” yourself before. When you either can’t get out of bed or can’t sleep at all, making you cranky all day. You crave carbohydrates and over eat. Your lack of energy makes it hard for you to focus on any given task, let alone complete it, and you withdraw from friends, socialise less. This pessimistic feeling and lack of pleasure can lead to hopelessness and depression.
If someone displays the symptoms above, chances are they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD.
As the name suggests, this can be a temporary, seasonal change in mood that clears itself up eventually. And it’s not limited to the cold months either! Ever heard of summer blues? Same thing, different season, with added level of anxiety.
SAD is considered a course specifier for depression. But before you run to the doctor to get therapy and anti-depressants, there are a few things that you can try at home to see whether this lack of energy is just that – a lack of energy due to factors such as vitamin D deficiency.
Catching a few of the elusive rays of sunshine while you’re holed-up all day at university or work is hard in autumn and winter. How are you meant to wake up when you walk/cycle/drive to and from uni or work in the dark? It might be only 5pm but it’s dark already and you still have papers to research or stories to write and things to be getting on with, while you feel like going to bed. Maybe your body clock despises the Daylight Saving system.
Here’s how to make sure you’re prepared for winter (cue the “Winter is coming” references from the Game of Thrones fans):
- Eat food high in fish oils, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folic acid.
Vitamin D comes naturally from the sun, so not getting enough sunlight means you need to get an energy boost from somewhere else. Fish oil can help regulate hormones, so it can really help with mood swings (Girls: all I’m gonna say is “PMS”). It’s also good for the heart! B12 is an energy and concentration booster which also helps to keep your hands and feet warm. Folic acid deficiency is linked to vitamin B12 deficiency and can lead to depression.
- Exercise regularly
Whether you take walks around the park, join a gym, ride your pushbike to work or exercise at home, getting your blood pumping and metabolism working is a good thing. You’ll feel better for it and get an energy boost.
- Try light therapy
During full daylight (but without direct sun) the light outside consists of approx. 10.000 lux (Lux is a measurement for light and illuminance). On an overcast day, this can drop to 1.000 lux or even 100 lux on a very dark, overcast day. Office lighting can range from 320-500 lux. You don’t have to be a genius to work out that you end up with a light deficit if you spend your day in an office (or lecture hall) and travel home in dark, overcast conditions. Especially when a day in full sunlight can range from 32.000 to 100.000 lux!! There are affordable SAD light therapy lamps that can help. The majority of these lamps manage 10.000 lux and all you have to do is sit and bask in their light for a short while each day (during breakfast, for example).
Light alarm clocks might also help you as they imitate a sunrise and should get your body to wake up naturally and gradually the lighter it gets.
I’m no stranger to low energy levels in winter, but I never really did anything about it until a few years ago. At the time, I was living in northern England, further north than I’d ever lived in Germany. And the dark was really starting to get to me. I experienced most of the symptoms: the mood swings, lack of energy, not waking up, not being able to concentrate. As soon as the clocks changed in October it was like a switch had been flipped in my mind. I’d be full of energy one day, and the next I struggled to get anything done, and it would stay this way until March or April.
My ex kept making fun of me, insisting I only had two emotions: being really depressed or hyperactive, depending on how much coffee I’d had. I spoke to a friend who recommended the light therapy as it had really helped her. Turns out, her GP had given her anti-depressants for years, when she achieved the same results with a one-time investment of about £ 60. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and if all else failed I’d still have a new, bright lamp.
I made sure my lamp was capable of 10.000 lux and sat next to it for 20-30 minutes every morning during breakfast and again at night during dinner. Sometimes I’d leave it on a bit longer while I read or watched TV. Within a week, my colleagues commented on how much more awake I seemed, how energetic I had become. A colleague I used to car pool with made it a habit of coming over to mine 10 minutes early so she’d get a coffee and 10 minutes with the light as well. That lamp is probably in my Top 5 of “The Best £ 60 Ever Spent”.
My only regret is that I didn’t know about SAD and how to combat winter blues while I was at university for my B.A. It would have made studying on long winter nights a lot easier.