It used to be simply called the ‘Winter Blues’ – it’s a nice, poetic name, but it doesn’t really do justice to just how disruptive Seasonal Affective Disorder can actually be! In fact, SAD is a very real mental health issue that affects up to 10% of people in Ireland every winter. It’s more than simply feeling a bit gloomy because of cold, dark days (though we do have some tips to help you deal with that) – it can be serious enough to really disrupt your daily life.
If you feel like your mood changes enough over winter that it’s affecting your day-to-day life and you need help, the best thing to do is to speak to your GP, or to a mental health professional. But if your symptoms are mild, or you just want to do everything you can to make sure SAD doesn’t affect your life over winter, there are some things you can do….
Invest in a SAD light.
It’s unlikely to 100% cure Seasonal Affective disorder, but a Light Therapy Lamp can be helpful in easing symptoms and make SAD far more manageable. There are some things to remember when using a SAD light – first, you should find a 10,000-lux light box. You can use a lower Lux light, but you’ll need to use it for a longer time. With a 10,000Lux light box, you will only need about 20-30 minutes (with the light at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches). It’s also recommended that you use the light box first thing in the morning… think of it like a little artificial sunrise!
Find out more
Often, a better understanding of what we’re going through makes it easier to face. There are some great resources out there to help you know and understand more about the subject of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but if you’re not sure where to start, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services have a great podcast you can listen to, as does the UK mental health charity Mind. If you want to read more, HSE has a good in-depth overview of what SAD is, how to recognise it, and what you can do about it.
Talk to someone
It sometimes feels ‘extreme’, to go and speak to a mental health professional… but just as you don’t deserve to suffer with physical pain, you also don’t deserve to feel mentally unwell. Lots of people find it really useful to work with a therapist (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in particular) to help them manage their moods and thoughts, and respond differently to the low moods and anxious thoughts that can accompany SAD.
Of course, the food and nutrients that we fuel ourselves with is as important as ever in maintaining our health through the winter months. Diet can do an awful lot, but if you like to be certain, supplements provide peace of mind that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Our chief pharmacist Emily Kelly MPSI is here to help, with some real advice about the best supplements you can take to help you stay on top of your mental and physical health this winter.
The sunshine vitamin is one of our best defences in winter, and one of the most commonly recommended supplements for anyone trying to combat SAD. Studies have shown a link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression, which is a problem for us here in Ireland especially during winter! In those dark days, our chances to actually absorb sunlight and get our daily dose of D are thin on the ground… so thin that up to one in five Irish adults become deficient in this vital vitamin during winter. Taking a good Vitamin D supplement has been shown to improve symptoms in people struggling with SAD, so make sure to stay topped up with your daily dose
Magnesium relaxes both the muscles and the mind, and it helps to promote better sleep too… but more than that, it’s also vital for your brain in producing serotonin, the happy hormone. A drop in serotonin levels has been recognised as a possible contributing factor to SAD, so by making sure you get enough magnesium you’re doing everything you can to help your body produce what it needs! Better sleep, better relaxation, and a better mood… magnesium is a winning winter combination.
The truth is, Omega 3s are good for you all year round, so maybe you have them in your cupboard already – but they can improve your mood as well as your joints and body, so it’s extra important to take them during winter. Studies have shown that Omega 3s have a positive effect on people with depression and bipolar depression, and that people with good levels of Omega 3s are less likely to suffer from depression – and while you can get them in your diet by eating things like salmon, some nuts, and leafy greens, a good supplement takes the guess work out, and makes sure you get what you need, every day.
Folic acid is known to be vital to our good health – you might have heard of the role it plays in healthy pregnancies, and it’s thought very likely to be important in preventing heart disease and strokes, as well as some cancers. But there are also links between low folate levels (i.e. a folic acid deficiency) and poor mental health, and although more research is needed, it looks like folic acid supplements can improve symptoms in people with depression.
Active Folic 60s
Be kind to yourself
Because the very best supplement you can give yourself is self-love. That means that even on the days you don’t do all the ‘right’ things to keep SAD at bay, or where you feel like you ate too much of the ‘wrong’ food, or you hid under a duvet for the whole day… you can still be nice to yourself, forgive yourself, and love yourself. Remember, especially this year, that you’re doing the best you can with what you have.
If you have any further health queries you can contact our freephone helpline on 1800 83 99 09 and one of our Pharmacists will be on hand to help.
Love McCauley x