(Disclaimer: I’m not in any way an expert in diet, exercise, mental health or health in general. All my advice on SAD is based on my own experience of it and on information I’ve picked up on the way. If you believe you’re suffering from SAD or any other health condition your first port of call should be with your doctor to rule out the possibility underlying illness.)
During Winter in the Northern Hemisphere light levels drop drastically. For a full explanation of why this causes Seasonal Affective Disorder in some people I recommend the MIND website, but put simply when you get enough natural sunlight your brain produces normal amounts of two important chemicals; melatonin which regulates sleep, and serotonin which regulates mood. People with SAD produce too much melatonin in Winter and too little serotonin, so you end up feeling more tired and having a lower mood. As you can imagine, these two effects do not help each other out!
Since lack of sunlight causes SAD, getting enough beneficial light is the first thing I want to discuss in these posts as I believe it’s the key to beating SAD. Ordinary lighting at home and work isn’t anywhere near bright enough to make a difference so to get enough light you need to do two things on a daily basis:
- Go outside, especially in the early afternoon when the sun is at it’s brightest. Not only will you get sunlight, going for a gentle stroll on your lunch break will give you more energy and a change of scene.
- Invest in a daylight lamp: Underlined and in bold because this is the single most important thing you can do to alleviate SAD. Daylight lamps are designed to replicate the brightness of sunlight, so using one for around 2 – 3 hours a day (depending on how bright that particular lamp is) should help you feel much better very quickly, as long as you use it properly at the right time. The really good ones get quite expensive, from £100 upwards, but I’ve got this one which cost me £50 and helped a lot last year, although I did have to sit very close to it to get the benefit. I’m considering getting a larger one this year if I can find a good quality one in my price range; if I do I’ll write a review of it on this blog. Some online shops rent out light boxes by the month so you could always rent one for a month and see if it helps before you commit to buying one. This shop hires them although having never had any dealings with them I don’t know if they’re any good.
If you do buy or rent a lamp be sure to find out how bright it is and how close to it you’d need to sit to get the benefit. Light is measured in lux; a good daylight lamp should give out 10,000 lux or higher. www.sad .org.uk have a useful buying guide and a list of recommended manufacturers that I’m using to find a new lamp so have a look at that before you buy one to make sure you're getting the most effective lamp you can.
A daylight lamp can also be used at times other than Winter if you find you experience SAD when the weather’s particularly dull. SAD tends to be at it’s worse between December and February but can last from September to April; I tend to need my light box from late October to early March. It feels odd at first to sit in the glow of a little box but after a couple of days it becomes habit and a normal part of my Winter routine, although sometimes my husband has to bully me into using it because I start the season in denial that it's Winter yet!
Tomorrow I'm going to write about formulating your cunning plan of attack on SAD this year and how you can plan ahead.