It’s thought the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects around 2 million people in the UK and more than 12 million people across northern Europe. It can affect people of any age, including children.
We all lack energy from time to time but if it doesn’t improve then you should see your GP.
There are a number of conditions that can leave you feeling lethargic. Iron levels are one of the first things that can affect energy levels and cause tiredness.
An under-active thyroid is another cause of tiredness and the falling hormone levels that occur at the menopause.
Fatigue can also be a sign of diabetes.
If you are suffering from SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) this can also cause fatigue.
As well as the above, some medications can also cause lethargy, including beta blockers, some antihistamines, codeine-based painkillers and also some antidepressants. Also some sleeping tablets may help to get you through the night, some can cause daytime fatigue.
The main symptoms are –
- sleep problems
- feeling down and unsociable
Of course, anxiety, stress and depression are also triggers for sapping energy levels. The best course of action is to go and visit your GP.
NHS Inform have ten tips on how to beat developing the winter blues –
1. Keep active
Research has shown that a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues. Read more about walking to get fit.
2. Get outside
Go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days. Inside your home, choose pale colours that reflect light from outside, and sit near windows whenever you can.
3. Keep warm
If your symptoms are so bad that you can’t live a normal life, see your GP for medical help. Being cold makes you more depressed. It’s also been shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half.
Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes, and aim to keep your home between 18C and 21C (or 64F and 70F degrees).
4. Eat healthily
A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over winter. Balance your craving for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Read more about healthy eating.
5. See the light
Some people find light therapy effective for seasonal depression. One way to get light therapy at home in winter is to sit in front of a light box for up to two hours a day.
“Some people find that using a dawn simulator [a bedside light, connected to an alarm clock, that mimics a sunrise and wakes you up gradually] as well as a light box can enhance the beneficial effect,” says Pavlovich.
One of the most obvious ways to treat SAD is to get outside in the daylight for at least 20 minutes a day but Light therapy is the most effective way of decreasing the symptoms. Also it is believed that eating foods rich in an amino acid called tryptophan increases the amount of serotonin in the brain.
6. Take up a new hobby
Keeping your mind active with a new interest seems to ward off symptoms of SAD, says Pavlovich. “It could be anything, such as playing bridge, singing, knitting, joining a gym, keeping a journal, or writing a blog. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on,” she adds.
7. See your friends and family
It’s been shown that socialising is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while.
8. Talk it through
Talking treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you cope with symptoms. See your GP for information on what’s available locally on the NHS and privately, or read this article on how to access talking treatments.
9. Join a support group
Think about joining a support group. Sharing your experience with others who know what it’s like to have SAD is very therapeutic and can make your symptoms more bearable.
SADA is the UK’s only registered charity dedicated to SAD. It costs £20 (£10 for concessions) to join, and you’ll receive an information pack, regular newsletters, discounts on products such as light boxes, and contacts for telephone support.
10. Seek help
If your symptoms are so bad that you can’t live a normal life, see your GP for medical help.
Read more about how SAD is treated.
Its the sunlight that tells your brain to produce serotonin, which is needed to boost our mood and energy. Lack of it as autumn turns to winter causes an increase in the production of melatonin (which makes us sleepy) and a reduction in serotonin is what can cause depression.
Also they say that Australian research found that taking vitamin D supplements for only five days in late winter improved the mood of people with SAD. It can also prevent osteoporosis, support immunity and regulate weight. Of course the best way to get Vitamin D is through the effects of sunlight on bare skin. Amazingly they say that Vitamin D lasts for 60 days in the body so if you’ve been away for your annual holiday in the summer, it will mean your levels should be fine until November.
Other sources of Vitamin D can be found in oily fish and eggs, cheese and poultry.
Research also suggests that eating carb-rich foods helps the brain take up tryptophan. You can also find supplements and The Food Agency recommends taking 10mcg a day.
Source: NHS Inform