Get Your Winter Blues Under Control

If you find yourself feeling a little sad when the weather gets colder, there are some tips that can help boost your mood.

What you need to know
  • It's believed lack of sunlight is a major factor in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • During Winter the average person should get around 40 to 65 minutes of direct sunlight per day
  • Vitamin D may help as well

We all know the feeling, your alarm buzzes and you rub the sleep out of your eyes to see it's still dark outside, you're feeling miserable and struggle to get out of bed.

For some people, they feel like that or worse, every day during Winter and it's recognised as a legitimate mental health condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

And it's much more serious than feeling like the odd 'doona day'.

SAD is defined by a "Major depressive episode that happens around the change of seasons," and is a prolonged period, lasting two to six weeks, which happens for at least two consecutive years Dr Brad McKay told ten daily.

There is also a major difference between SAD and a general depressive disorder that lasts year round says Dr McKay "You’ve got to have a full resolution of symptoms, so back to normal when summer comes,"

Approximately one in 300 Aussies suffer from the condition which is believed to be caused by a combination of lack of sunlight, vitamin D which most of us absorb from sunlight, changes in diet, exercise and lower energy levels during the colder months.

Although you should trust your judgement and seek medical help if needed, there are some tips that can help begin to banish the blues this winter.

To boost your Vitamin D you need to get some direct sunlight every day. Dr McKay says the average person should be exposed to between 40 minutes and 65 minutes of direct sunlight each day during Winter.

"That’s without having sunscreen on and exposing your face, neck and arm up to the elbows," Dr McKay said.

Limited direct exposure to sunlight can help boost your mood.  Image: Getty

But during Winter, sunshine can be hard to find.

Sun alarms (starting from about $85) that mimic the sun rising, gradually waking you up with light, rather than noise. 

The idea is that exposing yourself to bright light will help to wake up your mind and body, making it that little bit easier to climb out of bed when the blues hit hard.

SAD lamps or light boxes (starting from about $100) have also become popular, the lamps simulate sunlight and produce safe levels of UV light which can kick start your body to produce serotonin, the molecule in your central nervous system that produces those feel good vibes.

Dr McKay suggests it may also be worth trying Vitamin D supplements "There is a little bit of evidence that having vitamin D tablets can help, certainly if your deficient in Vitamin D, it’s unlikely to hurt you,"

Dr McKay told ten daily that keeping your regular habits of sleeping, diet, socialing and exercising is also essential.

"People with SAD tend to sleep a lot more than other  people, cosying into their bed and not wanting to get out,"

He advises that these baseline solutions should help for the majority of people and are a good place to start, however if symptoms worsen and you find it's a regular pattern, it's best to consult your GP.

"GP or a psychiatrist would be the person to diagnose you, not your friend or Dr Google" Dr McKay advises. Image: Getty

"If people are feeling that down and that depressed with regularity, they should feel the confidence to talk with their doctor about it and offer the diagnoses to be considered," he said.

Your GP may suggest seeing a therapist or medication such as short term antidepressants.

"Sometimes people only need it for a month or two to help out, to get them through that horrible point in time and then their mood will start to pick up," Dr McKay said.

While idea of SAD is  rather new to a climate like Australia where Winters aren't as harsh as other parts of the globe, it is worth looking into if you find yourself struggling to make it through Winter each year.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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