Use nature to fight the winter blues – seasonal affective disorder

Winter walk

Dark evenings, chilly mornings and the stress of Christmas can leave most of us feeling a little weary during the winter months. But with spring still a long way off and minimal sunlight, sometimes our symptoms can spiral into what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). A dose of seasonal depression was first recognised in Ancient Greece, but it wasn’t until the 1980s, that the term Seasonal Affective Disorder appeared.  Photo: Chris Ford, Flickr.

What is SAD?

SAD (sometimes known as “winter depression”) is a type of depression that usually occurs at the same time each year. It’s estimated that SAD affects around 2 million people in the UK, and is more common in women than in men. People aged 18 to 30 are most likely to be affected, so put on your shoes, wrap up in a scarf and head outside. It’s believed that getting outside for just 10 minutes a day can enhance our health.

Symptoms

Many of the criteria for diagnosing SAD are the same as those for depression: low mood, anxiety and lack of energy. Unlike other depression where people sleep less and eat less, people with SAD typically do the opposite. The cause is uncertain but disturbances in melatonin upset the levels of “feel-good” hormone serotonin when there are less hours of daylight. Light therapy – which involves sitting beneath a light box – is often used to treat symptoms but spending time outdoors will create a much happier, healthier you.

Running through snow

Run, Walk and Climb to Boost your mood

Here are some simple tips you can build into your weekly or daily routine to make sure you’re getting enough sunshine:

  • Take a walking meeting. Tired of sitting in the office talking around the table? Thinking, talking and walking outdoors can help creativity flow, improve energy levels, and can be a more effective way to put your ideas across. Make sure you take an umbrella, avoid noisy roads and determine the route before you set off.
  • Instead of sitting inside a café with your steaming coffee during your lunch break, go for a run or  even a wild run. You may only have an hour to spare but just 20 minutes of exercise a day can boost your metabolism and mental health. Keep your running kit in the office, and cool-down and stretch before you start work again. You will feel refreshed for the rest of the afternoon.
  • Walk a dog once a week. There are many schemes in the UK which allow you to walk pets for elderly who are no longer able to. It gives you an excuse to enjoy nature and you’re helping others too.
  • Get enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone health and we get most of it from sunlight on our skin, however, when sunrays are limited during winter, eat lots of oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals to make sure you get enough of the vitamin.
  • Watch the sunrise from the highest hill near you. Wake up an hour earlier than normal to see the day start. You may have to take a short walk or drive, but with a flask of tea and woolly coat there is nothing more nostalgic than taking time out and restoring our focus. A hilltop sunset is also a great way to eeke out extra daylight from those short winter days.

Our Wild Guide will give heaps of ideas for simple outdoor adventures.

Frosty stroll

Written by Joele Forrester

@JoeleForrester

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