Discover the best ways to keep up your energy levels and release those feel-good hormones during winter
People who live within 30 degrees of the equator seldom suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), thanks to long hours of daylight and bright sunshine. But people living further north or south, however, experience SAD symptoms more often, thanks to a combination of dark days and infrequent sunlight. So what can we do? All move to the desert or tropics? Probably not. But booking a winter sun holiday could be a possibility. Treat yourself to a trip away in January or February to give and you’ll have something to look forward to and some much-needed exposure to sun and light. If its really not an option, a daily walk, a blast of a light box and a healthy diet should all help.
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Exercise is natures own antidepressant an effective treatment for sadness, anxiety and depression; something which is rife during the winter months,’ says celebrity fitness expert Nicki Waterman. ‘A workout can fix other problems, too, such as stress and anger, by diverting your mind, relaxing your muscles and even altering your bodys biochemistry.’ Try to start exercising at the beginning of winter and try to build up to a regular routine, so that soon it wont feel like a chore. If you can’t think of anything worse than a jog in the dark, take our a free trial at a gym, an exercise video or a yoga class, which will all increase energy moods. Any physical activity lasting between 20 and 60 minutes can help to improve psychological wellbeing.
Lack of sun creates a drop in Vitamin D, which can also affect endorphin levels and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder. During the summer, most build a stock of Vitamin D in their bodies – but once this has been used up, it’s often necessary to increase the store through winter sun or supplements. Holland and Barretts Vitamin D3 tablets, or vitamin D drink NeuroSun, which contains the recommended dose of vitamin D in a low calorie form should redress the balance.
Whether you are a sufferer of SAD, along with the other 2 million people in the UK, or if you just feel a bit gloomy during darker nights, its usually down to the lack of light. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, loss of libido, and overeating. Not good. Light triggers messages to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls sleep, mood and appetite so it’s thought that the lack of sunlight in winter has an impact on how effectively it manages these functions. Luckily, light boxes have proven effective in over 90% of SAD cases. With prices starting at £50, treat yourself to one and try and soak up 2 hours a day. Alternatively, try a light box alarm clock. It’ll wake you up gradually with what feels like natural light, ti nag you feel more awake and happier about starting the day.
Its tempting to sleep more, what with the shorter days and dark evenings. But believe it or not too much sleep can be a curse its about quality not quantity. Force yourself to get up early, but allow for a rejuvenating hour nap mid-afternoon if you need it (and if your work commitments allow!). The same goes for workaholics who are getting by on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Try and find a way to fit in an extra hour. Ideally you should be having between 7-8 hours a night.
Its easy to get trapped in the stimulant cycle by eating and drinking sugar and caffeine. These give a rush and a temporary lift, but actually depletes and blunts valuable hormones – including endorphins – in the long run. If you cant get through the day without caffeine, try reducing your intake to a maximum of two cups of coffee a day. Or better still, start your day with a mug of green tea which is proven to increase your metabolism. If you can, cut down on sugar completely and swap that afternoon chocolate bar for a piece of fruit.
Its easy to get cosy on the sofa during dark, winter nights, but evenings in front of the TV soon turn into a routine, and can soon make you antisocial. Talking to friends can help combat depression and boost oxytocin levels the feel-good hormone we experience when we have a hug.
As well as vitamin D supplements, try Rhodiola. By slowing down the serotonin breakdown it’s proved effective in improving your mood and alleviating depression, as well as reducing fatigue. Another supplement beneficial to health as well as helping regulate your mood is cod liver oil, or any fish oil supplement. The essential fatty acids can strengthen the immune system, play a vital role in brain health and provide a healthy dose of vitamin D.
IIts not surprising 80% of us spend more time indoors in winter than summer, especially when the weather is foul and freezing. The lack of light makes levels of the happy hormone serotonin drop and you can feel lethargic,’ explains celebrity fitness expert Nicki Waterman. ‘Thats why in winter its important to get outside. Maximise your lunch break by taking a brisk walk outside to beat the blues and tone your legs and bum.
Its easy to binge during the winter, but although eating stodgy foods can be soothing in the short term, it can lead to lethargy and weight gain. Instead, try reaching for more proteins, such as turkey, chicken, fish, cheese, nuts and eggs, which contain tryptophan, a large amino that converts to serotonin in the brain. For tryptophan to work best though it needs to be consumed with a small amount of carbohydrates, such as a scoop of brown rice. Vitamin D, can be found in foods such as oily fish, salmon and sardines, eggs, fat spreads and wholegrain cereals. Yum.
Oxytocin is another feel good hormone often called the cuddle hormone, released when we feel love, trust and comfort. It can be even more powerful than serotonin. If you need a lift, remember the power of simply spending time with your significant other or family members and friends. Sex will also release endorphin levels, so schedule in those early nights!