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Beat the winter blues: tips for coping with depression during the colder months

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As the temperature drops and the dark nights creep in, many of us get the winter blues and in some more extreme cases, may even be affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance in a portion of the brain called the hypothalamus due to the lack of sunlight in the winter months and shorter daylight hours. 

During this time we can often experience a dip in mood but may also suffer with symptoms including sleep problems, over eating, anxiety, mood changes, lethargy, loss of concentration and libido

But there are ways to beat the winter blues. Dr Sebastian Winckler from shares his ideas to help you survive the cold months.

  • Get out during the daylight hours. Try and take an extended lunch break and go for a brisk walk around the park or sit next to a window to get the most out of the natural daylight. Getting as much natural light as possible helps improve Vitamin D levels which in turn will help lift your mood.
  • Boost your serotonin and energy levels by eating 'good carbs' like fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and seeds as these will help lift your mood but also control your weight. It’s common to comfort eat when you are feeling a little low but this will only offer a short term fix. So ditch the refined sugary carbs such as cakes, biscuits and white bread. 
  • Supplements such as St John's Wort may help mild levels of seasonal depression - but it's worth checking with your doctor as it can interact with other medications. Also try cod liver oil as this strengthens the immune system and improves vitamin D levels which protects against depression.
  • Light therapy has been shown to be effective in many cases. If you’re not getting enough natural light or struggling to wake up in the morning, try using a light box or dawn stimulator. Sitting in front of a light box for a short period everyday can help improve your mood. A dawn stimulator alarm clock can also help you to wake up naturally which in turn helps improve your mood.
  • Exercise is commonly accepted as a more effective treatment for depression than antidepressants. If you don’t want to exercise outside, try a home exercise video or attend a fitness class and get your heart pumping to release happy hormones.
  • Take a break. If you can, try and take a winter sun holiday or swap your summer holiday for a warm, winter trip to sunnier climates. Exposure to sunlight will increase your Vitamin D levels, which the body can store and distribute over a 30 day period.

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