Spas in Ireland

Don’t Be SAD This Winter

By , December 29, 2010

200 years ago 75% of the Irish population worked outdoors. Now, that figure is closer to 10%. The result is that a huge majority of Irish people are deprived of natural light for long periods during the day, which is exacerbated in winter months as shorter evenings creep in. For most this just means some dreary days spent awaiting spring time, but for others it can have far more serious consequences.

It is believed that around 20% of the Irish population are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition is often referred to as the winter blues because of the feelings of depression and anxiety experienced by sufferers at this time of year.

The cause of SAD is believed to be reduced sunlight exposure during the winter. The human body takes a cue from the sun to perform certain functions which is why daylight wakes us up and darkness makes us sleepy. These are known as our Circadian Rhythms and can sometimes fall out of order when sunlight is limited, meaning our body clocks are askew. This is the source of many of the symptoms of SAD which can include:

  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Overeating
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in personality
  • Anxiety

Luckily there are some small changes you can make to your usual diet and routine that can help prevent SAD naturally, but don’t be afraid to consult your doctor if symptoms don’t improve:

Seek out Sunshine
If you can, go outside around midday when the sun is at its brightest. Wear brighter colours that reflect light, but don’t forget to protect your skin as UVA and UVB damage can still occur in winter. When indoors, open curtains and blinds as wide as possible and sit beside a window if you can.

Have a Laugh
Laughter releases serotonin in the brain which naturally counteracts the symptoms of SAD. Watching comedies or having a laugh with friends can help improve anxiety and ease feelings of depression.

Stay Active
Exercise also boosts serotonin production. Something as simple as going for a walk during the day can help you feel better and get you motivated again, as well as exposing you to some natural daylight.

Stick to a Schedule
As hard as it may be, try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. This will help you establish a routine and get your body clock back on track. Bear in mind that sleeping too much can be counter-productive, leaving you feeling even more lethargic and depressed so keep to around eight hours a night.

Eat Well
A balanced and healthy diet is key to fighting symptoms of depression. B vitamins, especially B12, can help to counteract the symptoms of SAD. The best sources of B12 are foods like liver, sardines and kidneys, but if this isn’t your kind of thing then try breakfast cereals that have been fortified with B12 or simply opt for a supplement.  It is also best to avoid alcohol if you suffer from SAD as it is a depressant and can make symptoms worse.


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