Although seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is most prevalent in the northern hemisphere, the National Institute of Health estimates that one in 300 Australians also experience it. Associate Professor Michael Baigent, clinical advisor to BeyondBlue says, “S.A.D. is characterised by mood disturbances that begin in winter and subside when the season ends. Symptoms include depression, over-sleeping, over-eating, low energy levels, weight gain, and craving of carbohydrates.”
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people got up at sunrise, and retired after sunset. Our circadian rhythms - and, as a result, our hormonal, eating and sleeping patterns - are attuned to the cycles of the sun and moon.
Daylight triggers the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, and darkness triggers the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. When we followed these natural cycles we had sufficient serotonin because we were exposed to light throughout the day.
Today, however, many people set their alarm to get up in the dark; they then spend their day in an air-conditioned or artificially heated and fluorescent-lit office with no exposure to daylight and go home when it’s getting dark again. They are deficient in serotonin and vitamin D.
One solution is a full spectrum light box which emits extremely bright artificial light. The light is thought to alter levels of both melatonin and serotonin, so it has a positive influence on sleep patterns and wellbeing. They are widely available online.
You should also expose yourself to as much natural daylight as possible. On sunny winter days, go for walks outdoors. Even if winter light doesn’t have midsummer intensity, a dose of real sun is far more effective than indoor bulbs. Do everything you can to increase the amount of natural light that comes into your home. Keep curtains and blinds open. Consider having skylights installed, especially in rooms where you spend a lot of time. Plan a holiday during the winter months and get away to a warm, sunny climate.
Craving sugar and starch in winter is natural as these foods are traditionally more warming. However, it’s the type of carb you choose that determines whether or not you feel sluggish. Don’t overdo biscuits, sweets and other sugary or fatty foods. Treat yourself to slow-cooked casseroles with carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and organic meat, and soups with split peas, lentils and chickpeas. High protein meals help increase alertness – try a boiled egg for breakfast.
Try a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement containing vitamin B6, thiamine and folic acid – studies show that all of these can benefit mood. To prevent mood swings, don’t drink alcohol – your mood will plummet when the buzz wears off. And try taking St John’s wort - this herbal remedy helps to increase the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin.
Pick a flower
Depression often represents resistance and fear of change. Try these gentle Australian bush flower essences:
* Kapok Bush: When everything feels like too much trouble; for apathy, resignation, lack of effort. Brings about persistence and a willingness to ‘give it a go’.
* Wild Potato Bush: For feeling weighed down, frustrated, unable to move forward. Brings a sense of vitality, energy, and freedom.
* Red Grevillea: For feeling stuck in a job, relationship or situation you don’t enjoy; being over-dependent and sensitive to criticism. Gives strength, courage and trust.