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It may seem rather strange to be talking about Winter Blues in mid February, just when the days are definitely starting to draw out. However, with yet more rain and flooding at the weekend – will it ever stop raining?!? – it’s not surprising that many people have had more than enough of this very cold, wet and dark Winter… 
Also known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, Winter Blues are estimated to affect around 20% of adults each Winter. While it may sound like something of a joke to those not affected – particularly as it tends to be referred to by its initials, “SAD” – its affects are very real and can be debilitating for those concerned. 
So, this week, we’re going to take a look at Winter Blues and what can be done at home to help. 
Let’s start with the obvious question, what is it? 
The conventional description isn’t very helpful. It goes along the lines that it’s a type of depression which occurs seasonally, appearing in the Autumn and clearing in the Spring. Mmm… 
Symptoms are equally general and include: 
• Low spirits and trouble concentrating 
• Low energy and lethargy 
• Oversleeping – hibernating (!) 
• Overeating, with a craving for carbohydrates leading to weight gain 
• Withdrawal from social situations. 
• Low libido 
What causes it? 
With it becoming much more common the further north you go from the equator, it’s clear that natural light – not just sunlight – is a major factor. Here in the UK, we all know how the shorter winter days can affect our spirits, let alone those further north with even less natural daylight and colder temperatures during the winter. 
It’s well known that natural daylight helps set our Circadian Rhythms – our internal body clock – which controls many of our body functions. In other words, when we sleep and when we’re awake, as well as the different processes that take place during these times. 
It’s thought that the Hypothalamus – the master gland in the brain which controls many of the body’s hormones – is particularly affected by low levels of natural light. This then has a knock on effect on two hormones in particular, Melotonin and Serotonin, both of which are important in helping set our “mood” and “sleep / wakefulness” cycles. In other words, when we sleep and when we’re awake and alert. 
Interestingly, not only does it affect the amounts of these hormones produced, but also when they’re produced. So, they may be produced as the “wrong” time of day or in the “wrong” amounts, whether too much or too little. Not surprisingly, this results in the body getting completely out of synch and people finding it difficult to adapt to the shorter winter days. 
Matters can then be made worse by the clocks “falling back” to Winter, which further upsets the Circadian Rhythms further. For this reason, it’s not surprising that many people describe the Winter Blues as feeling permanently jetlagged. We’ve written about the effects the biannual clock change can have on people before and the post can be found here
It’s also been suggested that our increasingly indoor lives – even during the Summer (!) – just make matters worse. With less and less time being spent outside generally, we’ve lost the habit of being outside and our links to the natural world. 
Finally, our love of all things technological and emitting blue light – computers, phones, TV’s and more – all disrupt our Circadian Rhythms on an ongoing basis so making matters worse. Again, for a reminder why this is, click here
Now the important question, what can be done at home to help? 
Top of the list is the most simple and obvious solution. Spend time outside every day, regardless of the time of year and the weather. Natural daylight has many benefits, not least that it’s needed to produce Vitamin D, with low levels playing a key part in the Winter Blues. We’ve written about the importance of Vitamin D before and it can be found here
SAD lights can make a huge difference. Not only by producing “softer” natural light, but also SAD alarm clocks which simulate a natural dawn, rather than waking us up with a “bump” as the alarm goes off. A much gentler start to the day! 
Take a Vitamin D supplement during the Winter months. Not only will it help prevent the Winter Blues but is crucial for an efficient Immune System. And here’s a supplement related to Vitamin D that’s easy to overlook. Cod Liver Oil, which is high in Omega 3 fats and linked to improved mood and brain function. 
Take regular exercise all year round. Again, it has many benefits, particularly that it helps improve the mood – by helping balance Serotonin levels – as well as stimulating body functions, such as detoxing the Immune System. 
Optimise your sleep by establishing a regular sleep routine. We’ve written about sleep before and the posts can be found here and here
Clean up your diet. It’s easy to go for all the high carb and sugary “comfort foods” but these just increase lethargy and the Winter Blues. A wholefood diet, high in vegetables and fruit, provides the fuel our bodies really need during the Winter. Similarly, taking a good quality probiotic will help to support the digestion, ensuring the maximum nutrition from our food. 
It’s easy to forget that slowing down a little during the Winter is quite natural but, as always, it’s a matter of degree. Having said that, retreating to the sofa and not venturing outdoors, won’t do you any favours either. However much you may not feel like it, remaining active and spending time outside every day, will make all the difference and is the best natural solution to the Winter Blues. 
As always, the choice is yours. 
Picture by unknown author 
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