Post Written by Tiby Tristram

Are you blue, SAD or just lacking?

Many of you might be aware that on 15th January last month, it was ‘Blue Monday’.

This is now recognised and named as the one day in the year that we are supposedly at our saddest. How did you feel that day – any different from the day before or the day after? I don’t think I did. Believe it or not, there is actually a formula to calculate the saddest day of the year (which I think is a little bit of fun!):

For many of us, the simple fact is that in January, as Christmas becomes a distant memory and all the fun has gone, our reduced bank accounts and heavy credit cards remind us that we have to pay for all of that good living. To add to that worry, we have probably put on a pound or two and the gloomy weather just becomes even gloomier.

And if that’s not bad enough, our winter months are recognised as the time of year where we can also be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.Although the exact cause of SAD is unclear, it is thought (and backed up by numerous studies) that it may be triggered by lack of sunlight.

If you’re like many people who may be suffering with SAD (although there is no formal diagnosis), you could find that you have the following symptoms:

• You could find yourself less sociable
• Perhaps you are in a persistent low mood and feeling irritable
• Or maybe you feel a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
• Sometime, you may have feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
• Low self-esteem and tearfulness are also common
• Feeling stressed or anxious can be a daily burden
• A reduced sex drive goes hand in hand with lethargy.
• If you do feel lethargic, you may become sleepy during the day and even sleeping for longer than normal at night and finding it hard to get up in the morning.
• This can combine with craving carbohydrates and gaining weight is also normal for some people.

Not great reading I know, but on the plus side, at least we have a reason for our behaviour! Without sounding too flippant, it’s true to say that SAD is something we think of as the “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe during the winter. You should see your GP if you think you might have SAD and if you’re finding it difficult to cope. A number of treatments are available for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), including cognitive behavioural therapy, antidepressants and light therapy.

However, do try some simple self help remedies, which may just boost your mood and improve your symptoms, such as these suggestions:

• Natural light is so important, so try to get as much sunlight as possible. Get out in the daylight whenever you can – even a lunchtime walk can be beneficial
• Also, get as much light in to your home or place of work – even sit near windows when you’re indoors
• Exercise on a regular basis is so helpful, and doing the exercise outdoors and in daylight is even more beneficial.
• Food is so important, so eat a healthy, balanced diet
• Try to manage stress as this is a very detrimental to your health.

As I mentioned above, it may be difficult to diagnose SAD correctly. There are many other ailments or issues that also present with the same type of symptoms. For some women, the menopause is one huge factor!But depression at this time of year is also linked highly with lack of Vitamin D.

Researchers say vitamin D deficiency could be a driver of Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD. You probably won’t be able to tell if you have a vitamin D deficiency, but according to world-renowned dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad, general symptoms can include: ‘fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, weight gain, poor concentration, restless sleep, and headaches. Although this sounds very similar to the symptoms of SAD, a vitamin D deficiency maybe easier to manage and resolve, although always check with your GP.

Vitamin D is created under our skin by getting direct sunlight on our bodies. It’s this reason we’ve given it the name of ‘the sunshine vitamin’.  From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight. (although this depends on many factors such as our age, skin type, sun screen creams, strength of the sun etc).

When sunlight is lacking during the winter, you can help your body in getting a little more Vitamin D by eating plenty of foods that are rich in Vitamin D. These are:

• oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring, kippers
• cod liver oil contains a lot of vitamin D (don’t take this if you are pregnant)
• egg yolk, ricotta cheese, mushrooms, some meat including pork ribs, offal and milk and almond milk contain small amounts but this varies during the seasons.
• some breakfast cereals, orange juice and milk, infant formula milk and some yoghurts have added or are ‘fortified’ with vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements and multivitamins are now widely available to buy from chemists/pharmacies, supermarkets and health food shops.

I think that post Christmas blues, broken New Years resolutions, dark days, cold weather, life stresses and ailments are all potentially making us depressed. Many of us may need help from our GP, but for many others, my message here, in summary, is that during our winter months, try to get as much sun and light as possible, eat well with the right foods, get some exercise outdoors during daylight hours and try to alleviate stress where possible.

None of these are particularly hard for us to do, we just need the right planning and desire to stay healthy.

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