With winter comes shorter, darker, colder days. Although there are parts of these colder months that are easy to love – woolly hats and gloves, evenings by the fire – this is often the time that people begin to feel down in the dumps because of a specific seasonal affective disorder: SAD.
SAD is more than just longing for some sunshine, and has effects similar to depression. As the nights draw in, sufferers take no pleasure in everyday activities, feel irritable and lethargic, sleep more, and find it harder to get up, as well as craving sugary carbohydrates and piling on weight. Unlike standard depression, though, it usually lifts in the spring and summer.
How could vitamin D help?
Some studies have found that vitamin D – also known as 'the sunshine vitamin' – can help those struggling during the winter months.
Vitamin D is made by the body on exposure to sunlight, meaning those who live far from the equator where the UV index falls below 3 (the minimum required for vitamin D synthesis) in the winter months, don't get enough to maintain levels. Around half of Ireland's adult population does not have sufficient amounts of vitamin D.
Other ways to keep your mood in check over winter:
Exercise can have an instant uplifting effect on your mood. It floods the brain with mood-enhancing endorphins and releases the stresses and strains of the day. Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and do enough of it. But do limit yourself to exercise that is personally enjoyable, as this means you will be far more likely to develop a routine and stick to it.
2. A healthy diet
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is very important. Too much sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol could leave you feeling lethargic and lower your mood. Some people don't feel like eating when they're depressed and are at risk of becoming underweight. Others find comfort in food and can put on excess weight.
For some people, alcohol can become a problem. You may drink more than usual as a way of coping with or hiding your emotions, or just to fill time. But alcohol won't help you solve your problems and could also make you feel more depressed.
Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll says, "Using mindfulness to be 'present in the moment' has been found to have numerous health benefits. Mindfulness not only helps with low mood, anxiety and can allow people to deal more effectively with stressful situations, it can also benefit physical health problems and give us the mental space to develop a sense of acceptance."