Mood Changing with the Weather?

Mood Changing with the Weather?

Author -  Karin Wannenburg

In the words of the legendary, John Denver, “sunshine on my shoulders, makes me happy”. Apparently, he’s not the only one. When you’re cooped up inside for too long, it’s not uncommon for the winter blues to come a-knockin’.

As it gets colder and the days get shorter, some people experience a form of depression that occurs during autumn and winter. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and yes, it’s a real thing.

The exact cause of SAD is still unknown, although it has been linked to low vitamin D levels. People that experience Seasonal Affective Disorder have a difficult time adjusting to the shortage of sunlight in colder months. During autumn and winter, there’s a lot less light to soak up. When light passes through the eyes, the brain releases a chemical called serotonin. When we don’t have a sufficient amount of serotonin, depressive symptoms begin to occur. Researchers have studied different theories from an imbalance in our body’s daily rhythms (as a response to the changes in sunlight patterns), to a shift in our internal biological clocks. The severity in which an individual suffers from the symptoms varies case-by-case.

SAD Symptoms 
Subsyndromal SAD, more commonly known as the 'winter blues’ is a mild form of the disorder, where sleeping and eating problems are more common than depression and anxiety.  

SAD however, has more serious symptoms such as lethargy, loss of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable, and persistent sad, anxious or "empty" moods. Changes in sleeping and eating habits are also common. Cravings for sugary or starchy food for instance occur more frequently due to low serotonin levels. These depressive symptoms disappear in spring either suddenly (with a short period of hyperactivity) or gradually, depending on the intensity of sunlight. 

Who gets Sad?

Young people and women are at the highest risk, but it can affect anyone. SAD may begin at any age but the most common age of onset is between 18 and 30 years. It occurs all around the world but is extremely rare in those living within 30 degrees of the Equator, where daylight hours are long, more constant and extremely bright.

Complimentary Therapy
Get Outside: People don’t need to wait for spring or move closer to the equator to overcome SAD. Traditionally SAD has been treated with psychotherapy and antidepressants. However for mild symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight may be helpful. Painting walls in light, bright colors can also help with depressive symptoms. Increasing your outdoor physical activity or even sitting near a window and looking outside for 15 minutes, three times a day can make a big difference too. One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.

Look into Light Therapy: Extend each day through artificial sunlight. Light therapy has shown great promise in treating those suffering from moderate to severe cases of seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy can include sitting in a brightly lit room for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. (A brightly lit space consists of at least eight, 100 watt bulbs in one single area.)

Artificial bedroom light can help those suffering from insomnia and severe depression. Special lights can be set to simulate dawn, automatically going from dim lighting to bright, white light every morning. Another tip is to use bright lights to illuminate your living environment during cloudy or overcast days.

Be Social: Surround yourself with friends, family members or co-workers to avoid isolation.

Limit Your Vices: Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.

Get Natural Help: People who suffer from SAD or depression have low serotonin levels. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter chemical in our brain and 5-HTP from the African plant Griffonia boosts serotonin levels.

Jamaican Dogwood, Californian Poppy, Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Passionflower herbs are useful for anxiety associated with depression and may also help assist with relaxing muscles that are tight and knotty with nervous tension.  

Stay Healthy: Colds, flus and bacterial infections such as sinusitis and bronchitis also make the winter blues worse. Taking herbs, vitamins and minerals may to help boost your immune system especially vitamins C and D, Zinc and Olive Leaf extract, AndrographisAstragalus and the new Viralex Attack now with EpiCor® - clinically proven to start working in just 2 hours.

If you think you may have SAD, discuss your symptoms with a health care professional.


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Not all products recommended may be available in South Africa at this time