Brain experts reveal 4 ways to beat the winter blues
If you’re starting to feel sluggish, easily distracted or like you have a distinct lack of willpower, Seasonal Affective Disorder could be kicking in. Here’s how to stop it in its tracks.
Every year, it seems plenty of us are caught off guard by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with as many as 2 million people in the UK grappling with the condition.
SAD symptoms include reduced energy levels, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, and cravings for sugary and high-carbohydrate foods.
With this in mind, the brain health experts at Brainworks Neurotherapy have shared their tips on how to combat the winter blues, and what can be done beyond the well-known light therapy.
Founded in 2007, Brainworks was among the first neurofeedback practices in the UK. With a team composed of experienced, licensed neurofeedback specialists, today Brainworks is among the world’s leading pioneers in neurofeedback and brain training technologies.
And their findings? That the best strategy for tackling SAD is to adopt a holistic approach to your health.
The simple, easy-to-implement lifestyle changes outlined below aim to simultaneously address mood, sleep, physical health, and lifestyle factors to mitigate the impact of SAD symptoms.
STRATEGIC SUNLIGHT EXPOSURE
No matter how dreary the weather outside may be, make it a point to step outside for 10-15 minutes every day, before 12pm.
To maximise the benefits of this exercise, position yourself to face east, as this aligns you with the direction of the morning sun.
It’s also important to repeat this practice in the evening, during sunset – this time, facing west.
Exposure to natural light in this way and time frame is essential for supporting your hormonal system. This is because the amount of light that enters your eyes during these times directly influences the production and regulation of hormones in your body, such as serotonin, melatonin and cortisol, which all play a critical role in regulating mood and sleep patterns.
This effectiveness extends even to areas with cloudy weather, as the light can penetrate through clouds.
Grounding, also known as earthing, is a practice that involves physically connecting with the Earth’s surface to absorb its natural, subtle electrical charge.
The idea behind grounding is that, in our modern lives, we are often insulated from direct contact with the Earth due to the prevalence of rubber-soled shoes, buildings, and other non-conductive materials.
Research indicates that grounding can reduce inflammation, help manage stress levels, and improve sleep patterns.
To practise grounding, all you need is to locate a patch of grass, sand or even mud, and let your bare skin make contact with the natural earth. You can either walk or stand barefoot on the ground to experience its benefits.
Aim to spend at least 20 minutes every day practising this to see the benefits. Even as the weather gets colder, you can continue this practice with reduced time spent, just remember to dress warmly to stay comfortable.
Set a fixed bedtime for every night and, as the clock ticks, put away your phone, turn off the lights, and gently close your eyes.
This simple lifestyle adjustment is often underrated, yet it stands as one of the most effective anti-stress habits. Going to bed at the same time every day offers multiple benefits: it aids in regulating our circadian rhythms, ensuring our body’s internal clock is in sync.
This, in turn, helps stabilise the production of crucial hormones like melatonin and cortisol. Such regularity not only contributes to improved sleep quality, but also plays a vital role in stabilising mood and promoting better mental health.
While the natural reaction when experiencing SAD symptoms might be to isolate oneself, it’s essential to try the opposite by nurturing connections with others.
Engaging in social activities with friends, family or support groups, can offer a sense of connection and belonging that acts as a potent antidote to the winter blues. These interactions not only provide emotional support but also serve as a reminder that you’re not alone in your battle against SAD.
Please note that cases of SAD with more severe symptoms should be evaluated and treated by medical professionals. Treatment options may include cognitive-behavioural therapy, antidepressant medication, or a combination of therapies.
In such cases, your GP should be your first point of contact for guidance and appropriate care.