It’s February. It’s supposed to be the shortest month in the year, but it always feels like the longest.
It’s a struggle to get out of bed. When you finally do roll out of bed, your mind feels like it hasn’t switched on properly. The grogginess stays for the better part of the day as you battle the cold winds and scrape ice of your windshield. Your Starbucks’ habit is out of control. The barista knows you by name and smiles with a knowing look as you stand in line. You are looking for your fix, if only it were that simple…
Unfortunately, coffee won’t help you battle the winter blues. Most likely you’re suffering from SAD.
What is SAD?
It is estimated that 20% of the UK suffers from a mild form of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Symptoms range from lethargy, irritability and anxiousness to full on depression. Most suffers find their symptom subside gradually as spring comes and the days grow longer. While the exact cause of SAD isn’t known, experts think sunlight affects our brain chemicals and hormones, stimulating a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus controls your mood, as well as eating and sleeping patterns. So, if you’re snacking compulsively or feeling like snapping at your coworkers, you might be suffering from a mild form of SAD. The lack of sunlight affects the production of melatonin and serotonin hormones. Some people struggle to fall and stay asleep during winter. The body's circadian rhythm, the internal clock is impacted by the long winter evenings.
Offices Make SAD Worse
It’s no coincidence that the first Monday of February is dubbed National Sickie Day in the UK. A combination of winter blues and tiredness make it the favorite day for employees to call in sick with mysterious illnesses. Office morale is low as employees struggle to pay off their Christmas credit card debts or battle the bulge.
The artificial light in offices only worsens SAD. Most lighting in homes and offices ranges between 200-500 lux. This is pitifully low when compared to the 100,000 lux of a summer day. This means a bright summer day gives up to 500 times the light you’ll find in your office or home.
A light box can help minimize SAD symptoms. Studies show that light therapy improved up to 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. Most light boxes emit about 10,000 lux, which means 30 minutes or an hour a day can make a significant difference in your symptoms. If you notice your mood changing in October as the days grow shorter, you should begin therapy in autumn and keep using the box throughout winter until March, when the amount of daylight increases again.
- Minimize your alcohol intake. It can worsen insomnia and prevent deep sleep.
- Limit junk food. It goes without saying sugary food increases insulin production and impacts hormones. Numerous studies have linked junk food with depression.
- Take a holiday. It can improve your productivity and overall mood. However, if you were already feeling low at work or hate your job, it’s worth reconsidering your career as this might be the true cause of your winter blues.
-Exercise is known to release feel-good brain chemicals and endorphins that ease depression.
- Herbal remedies like St. John’s wort are effective at battling mild forms of depression. However, it’s important to consult a doctor as it may affect other medications, especially contraception. Also the active ingredient in St. John’s wort shouldn’t be combined with intense light therapy as it can impact eyesight. So, it’s a case of St. John’s wort or a light box NOT both.
There is good news though; the first day of spring is less than six weeks away. In the meantime, there’s always Valentine’s Day to look forward to in your calendar.