With the start of autumn, days are getting shorter and, for many people, this means getting up before sunrise and finishing work at sunset. Add to this the dreary weather and you have the perfect storm to drag your spirits down. The ‘winter blues', or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can severely impact some people’s normal daily functioning. SAD sufferers experience debilitating feelings of low mood, dread, sadness, anxiety, stress, lethargy or sluggishness.
What causes SAD?
The exact cause for SAD is not known. It is thought that an imbalance in neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers in the brain needed for mental and physical performance, mood and sleep – serotonin and melatonin is involved.
Low levels of sunlight in autumn and winter are significant contributing factors of the winter blues as they affect (i) the production of the happy and feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, tipping sensitive people over the edge, and (ii) the production of vitamin D levels (produced when the sun hits the skin), which plays a major role in mood regulation.
How can you counteract SAD naturally?
Unfortunately, food is not a great source of vitamin D but it can be found to some extent in oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, trout, halibut, mackerel), high-quality cod liver oil, egg yolks and liver.
The best way to get your vitamin D in autumn and winter is by taking a vitamin D3 supplement.
Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are key in boosting your mood and brain function. You can find omega-3 fats in oily fish, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseed. If you do not eat fish on a regular basis, you may want to consider taking a supplement with a high EPA to DHA ratio.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, you will not get enough omega-3 through plants and may want to take an omega-3 supplement derived from seaweed.
B vitamins and magnesium
Foods rich in B vitamins, like nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables (which also include magnesium), are great for mental stability.
Protein: Your body makes serotonin from protein. Ensure you include a steady supply of high quality protein, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, chickpeas and lentils, in your daily diet.
- Reduce stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
- Exercise outdoors to combine the natural anti-depressant effects of exercise with mood-boosting exposure to daylight. For instance, taking a morning walk (without wearing sunglasses) is a great way to both exercise and reset your body clock.
- Invest in a full-spectrum lightbox (SAD lamp/daylight therapy box) and spend 30 minutes each day in front of it.
Christelle Page is a registered nutritionist, specialising in energy, weight loss and blood sugar management. Visit Keep Calm Nutrition to find out more and to book your free health call.