Yeah, I know: you’re back at work, hungover, tired, still picking bits of turkey out of your teeth. The world sucks right now. But at least there’s some medical justification for you feeling like a pile of crap — Seasonal Affective Disorder.
First, a quickie bit of science. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or the winter blues, is a type of depression triggered by lack of light in the winter. An estimated 7 per cent of us poor Brits suffer from serious SAD, with a further 17 per cent mildly affected by the condition.
SAD kicks in as the days get shorter and we get less and less sunlight, leading to classic depressive symptoms such as lethargy, disrupted sleep patterns and loss of sex drive (yep, that’s right, lack of light can make life worse in the bedroom). The prevailing medical theory is that the lack of light causes over-production of melatonin (the hormone that puts you to sleep), leading to the laundry list of problems above.
Never fear though; there are ways of beating the winter blues, from the actually-medically-approved to the fuck-it-probably-won’t-help-but-sounds-fun-so-I’ll-do-it-anyway.
This isn’t a device for causing long faces; rather the opposite, in fact. Coming straight from the ‘common sense’ school of medical treatments, SAD lamps (or ‘light therapy boxes’, if you want to sound all clever and technical) are basically just super-powerful lights that replicate the effect of natural sunlight. Normal indoor lighting provides 250-500 lux (lux is a measurement of light output); SAD lamps chuck out a minimum of 2500 lux.
It’s a simple cure — not getting enough light, so blast yourself with a searchlight instead. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommend a half-hour to an hour of retina-scorching treatment a day, starting in the autumn as soon as you start feeling all grumpy. One thing to note is that you should ideally conduct your light therapy while it’s still dark outside, preferably before dawn.
This is definitely a treatment for morning people — if I’m feeling tired and grumpy in the morning (and believe me, that’s a common thing), the absolute goddamn last thing I want to do is get up at 4 a.m. and blast my tortured eyes with light. You’d have to drag me kicking and screaming from under my nice warm duvet.
If you do want to try a SAD lamp, ensure you get a clinically-approved one — full list can be found here. Also note that Dawn Simulators (alarm clocks that make an artificial dawn to wake you up) are not quite the same as SAD lamps.
“Ooh, ah, it’s cold and wet outside, I don’t want to go running”. Man up. Just like with other types of depression, exercise is a good way of kicking the winter blues, so go dig your mangy trainers out and hit the road. “But it’s freezing out there”, I hear you say. You know what warms you up? Running faster.
Try and make it aerobic exercise, like running, cycling or football rather than standing in a gym lifting weights. That’ll probably just make you more depressed. Also, on the gym note, try and get outside for your dose of exercise. Especially if you live in a city, spending an hour a day running round somewhere green for a change will make a big difference to your grumpiness.
If you need some help sticking to your new-found exercise regime (and who am I kidding, we all do), there are a few things you can try: exercise-tracking apps like Fitocracy or RunKeeper (disclaimer: I love the hell out of RunKeeper and probably wouldn’t be bothered to do a single run without it) help motivate you, and let you post your workouts to Facebook, because nothing says “FU winter blues” like shoving your new-found athletic prowess in all your friend’s faces; the Nike FuelBand or FitBit let you keep track of your day-to-day activities; for those without smartphones who don’t want to spend cash, websites like MapMyRun (or MapMyRide for the Lycra-clad cyclists among us) are good tools for keeping track of your workouts.
If neither of the above have worked for you, or you don’t believe in running or super-bright lights, SAD can be treated just like classic depression. The NHS recognises the existence of SAD, and lists cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants as recognised treatments.
Being cold makes you depressed. Fact. One of the easiest and least-effort solutions to mild winter blues is to stay nice and cosy warm. Obviously, the simplest way to stay warm is to do a Spinal Tap and turn that heating all the way up to 11, but there are other ways as well:
Taking up some kind of new activity can help re-focus your mind and has been shown to alleviate SAD. The ideal hobby is one that’s new, active, gets you outside and is social — so we’re talking team sports here. If that’s still too active for you though, pretty much any kind of new hobby will help. Crocheting. Bridge. Stamp collecting. Airfix models. Just anything but Call of Duty.
I’ll bet you any money that this one fits in nicely with your New Year’s resolution. On New Year’s Day, in the throes of a migraine level hangover, you probably swore off booze, chocolate, turkey, everything. Try sticking to these, at least ’till spring. Plus, not gaining a shiteload of weight will probably help improve your mood immeasurably.
This treatment should be taken with a small fistful of salt, but some people claim that stocking up on Vitamin D (which is synthesised from exposure to sunlight, and thus lacking in the winter months), helps with SAD. Studies do show that there’s a correlation between low vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder, but bearing in mind the old adage ‘correlation doesn’t prove causation’, I reckon this is a pile of bullshit. Still, try anything once and all that.
Image credit: Sad man from Shutterstock