As the autumn nights draw in, some of us will be vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression believed to be caused by a lack of natural light. Check out our health experts’ top tips to help combat SAD the natural way in just 24 hours…
Morning: start your day with a smile
Open your curtains as soon as you wake up. “Sunlight or bright daylight stimulates our body’s production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone.’ So the dark and dull days of winter can easily deplete your serotonin levels, making you feel low, sluggish and tired. Do what you can to maximise your natural light exposure,” explains Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at SuperfoodUK.com.
“If you feel especially down on dark mornings, consider using a special light lamp alarm clock. The lamp gradually turns itself on (and gets brighter and brighter) to mimic natural dawn sunrise, to wake you up slowly before your alarm goes off. Research has shown people feel more positive and find it easier to get out of bed in the darker months after using this device,” says Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns.
Scrambled, boiled or poached for breakfast? “Eggs are a great source of protein, which when broken down in the body will make amino acids and these are then used to make neurotransmitters to help keep our mood balanced,” says Shona.
Pop a pill after your breakfast to balance your gut flora. “Unfortunately, due to our diet, lifestyle and stress levels most of us struggle with an imbalance of gut flora. Try taking high-quality probiotics to restore your intestinal flora and include fermented foods in your daily diet. Think: kefir, pickles, sauerkraut or miso,” says Shona.
“Try Pro-Ven Adult Probiotic 25 Billion (£13.95, Boots) which contains Lab4, the most comprehensively studied group of friendly bacteria of any product in the UK. This provides real benefits in supporting digestive and immune health,” explains Cassandra.
Kick-start your day in stitches. Having a laugh is one of the best remedies for stress and low mood – it triggers healthy changes in our body. “Many studies show that laughter boosts our energy, decreases stress hormones, improves immunity and diminishes pain. But what’s very important for anyone, who is stressed or feeling down, is that laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals that make us happier and relaxed,” explains Dr. Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar.
Afternoon: give yourself an afternoon pick me up
Go green. Beat feeling sluggish and swamped by your to do list, with a green tea. “Green tea is an excellent healthy mood booster. It contains some caffeine, which gives you a bit of a lift, but also contains the amino acid theanine. Theanine can have a relaxing effect and may help to relieve anxiety and mental stress, potentially by increasing your levels of serotonin, dopamine (responsible for reward and pleasure), and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, which has a relaxant effect). If you don’t like green tea, or prefer to avoid the caffeine, try theanine capsules, taking one when you feel particularly anxious,” explains Shona.
Pop a happy pill. “Vitamin D can help with the symptoms of mild depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The best way to get it is through sunlight on the skin. Although you can get some vitamin D from foods such as butter and oily fish, it’s not really enough. The best way to get vitamin D is from spending lots of time in the sun. Make sure you take a supplement, such as Natures Plus Liquid Sunshine Vitamin D3 Drops (£29.95, revital.co.uk),” says Cassandra.
Fancy a mid-afternoon snack? “Snack on nuts or seeds as these are a source of protein which are broken down in the body to make amino acids and then used to create neurotransmitters. These are responsible for keeping our mind and mood balanced,” explains Shona.
Take a break from the office. “Exercise is one of the most potent stress relievers but also the most underutilised. Take a brisk five-minute walk to stimulate anti-anxiety effects, clear your thoughts and allow you to deal with your stressors more effectively,” explains Lily Soutter, Nutritionist and weight loss expert at lilysoutternutrition.com.
Stressing? Write a to-do list. “If you feel the symptoms of stress coming on, learn to get your priorities right. There is nothing in your life right now more important than your health. Learn to say no if you feel that you have taken on too much. Being assertive is invigorating and empowering. It also helps to make lists of what is, or is not, a priority and to tackle the priority tasks first. This will help give you a sense of control over your life,” says Marilyn.
Evening: end the day on a good note
Don’t forget to treat yourself now and again. “New research has shown that eating a square of dark chocolate a day can relieve emotional stress. It’s the high quantity of antioxidants called falvonols, which are responsible for these positive effects. Stick with dark, organic, unprocessed chocolate for maximum benefits,” says Lily.
Catch up with a friend after work. “Oxytocin is another ‘feel good’ hormone. Released when we bond socially and feel general trust, comfort and love, this hormone is just as powerful as serotonin. Whenever you feel low and need a lift, spend time with your family and friends to mellow down and feel instantly better,” says Shona.
Unwind in the evening with a chamomile tea. “Chamomile is a calming herb with potent anxiety reducing effects. Chamomile can be consumed daily as a tea, infused in oils or honey, and can be added to smoothies,” says Lily.
Get snuggled. “For an extra Oxytocin level boost, have a cuddle. This hormone is released when we experience physical contact from a loved one. Whenever you feel low and need a lift, grab a hug off your favourite person for a natural feel-good, fuzzy feeling,” says Shona.
Stretch out before bed. Do some stretches before you hit the sack, to help you fall asleep faster and better. “Try Pilates, which will increase your flexibility and improve posture as well as help to release tension,” explains Lynne Robinson, author of Pilates for Life and founder of Body Control Pilates.