Anyone who knows me will know that I start the day as I enter my NHS office with a remark about the weather. If its sunny my comments are light and bright and positive, if its dark and gloomy, wet, windy, snowy, sleety, rainy, misty, or any other descriptive word you can use for typical Scottish weather, I'm peeved, annoyed and fairly negative.
For me this does not last all day and does not severely affect my day to day living, I just need to moan to get it out of my system. However for some, this is an Autumn - Winter into spring ordeal, affecting enjoyment of life and living.
Approximately 1 in 16 Brits suffer from this disorder a form of depression triggered by lack of sunlight. Feeling down, lack of energy, listless, poor concentration, easy to irritate and anger. Increased desire to sleep yet less quality of sleep, and for me as a dietitian I observe in many, a change in behaviour around food. Cravings, mindless eating, seeking out comfort from food and often employing covert behaviour to satiate those cravings as if all control around food has ceased.
It would be simplistic of me to say there is an answer to this and like magic there are foods you can eat that will lift your mood and make you happy. However, part of this picture is that feeling of loss of control and lack of insight as to why!
In fact there is a contributing external factor affecting our mood, and that factor involves a chemical/biological process driven by sunlight that allows humans to produce not only Vitamin D but also important 'feel good' neurotransmitters. Understanding this means we can look to see if there are any other ways of up-regulating our production of these transmitters. In a previous blog I have looked at foods that help promote serotonin and foods that block its production, but just to recap:
Low serotonin levels result in low mood, poor sleep, lethargy and a feeling of disconnection or lack of involvement with those around you. Foods that help boost serotonin levels are: fish, fruit, eggs, avocado, wheat germ, cheese and lean poultry.
Alcohol is a depressant and unhelpful.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter and lack of its production leaves you lacking drive and motivation....your get up and go, got up and went! Importantly low dopamine increases cravings and can be behind weight gain.
Steer clear of caffeine in all its forms.
Eating an abundance of fast acting carbohydrates, sweeties, cakes, biscuits, stodgy potato based meals, large carbohydrate portions and sugary drinks , may give you a short term feeling of satisfaction but the effect post consumption is one of lethargy, tiredness and that confirmation that once again you have lost control. This behaviour can be mood driven and you may often be unaware of what drives your food choices especially in winter months.
Being aware is half the battle. Knowing what foods would be better for your health, weight and mood is the other half. Lean meats, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish ( especially oily) whole-grains in small portions. Many cereals are reinforced with vitamin D most people in the northern hemisphere (Scotland) will benefit from a vitamin D supplement (10mcgs) in our winter months and those who are elderly or housebound should have this prescribed by a GP and dosed as their individual requirements indicate. Vital for the skeleton and important for many other biochemical and neurological functions Low vitamin D levels are prevalent in Scotland in the winter months.
There are other changes that you can make in the winter months to help boost your mood.
Keep your environment light and bright, dull gloomy rooms are not conducive to a good mood.
Get outside. Psychologically, natural light even in the winter is important.
Social interaction. Less time to think of your self. Expanding your social circle can reap life long rewards.
Exercise. Being sedentary can lead to insular thinking and reinforces low self esteem. The less you move the less you want to move. Inactivity drains confidence..
Most importantly. There bis a huge difference between SAD syndrome and true depression. If you recognize the scenarios above and know that they are transient that is one thing, if you are suffering in silence, whether in winter or summer and cannot shift your low mood, seek help.
There is nothing to lose in getting checked out, don't put up with something that can be helped by medicine, therapy or small changes in behaviour.