When the alarm went off this morning, Sarah rolled over and hit the snooze button. Everything seems like extra work these days, as she drives to her professional job and back home in the dark. She doesn’t have the energy to go out in the evening, instead staying home on the couch, watching tv. She has no motivation and feels miserable – just as she does every year during the winter months.
Between 30 and 40 per cent of people who live in northern areas, like Sarah, get the “winter blues” – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mild form of depression, brought on by changes in levels of two chemicals:
- Serotonin – a brain chemical that contributes to feelings of well-being, produced in response to sunlight. Shortened daylight hours in winter mean lower serotonin levels.
- Melatonin – a hormone that affects sleep patterns, produced during hours of darkness. Longer nights mean more melatonin, increasing feelings of fatigue and sleepiness.
The key to treating SAD is to regulate our exposure to light and choose a diet that helps the body produce serotonin.
- Start the day in front of a light box for a few minutes, to trigger serotonin production
- Take vitamin D supplements through the winter, starting in mid-November
- Eat more fish – research indicates that countries where fish is prominent in the diet have a lower occurrence of SAD
- Eat more foods rich in tryptophan, a naturally-occuring chemical that is used by the body to produce serotonin. Tryptophan is found in protein-rich foods like cottage cheese, milk, red meat, fish, turkey, bananas, dried dates and nuts.
- Spend some time outside every day, if possible, especially on sunny days. Take a walk at lunch and plan outdoor activities on the weekend.
Sarah and others who are affected by SAD don’t have to tough it out until spring. A few simple changes to daily activities and diet can help improve mood and energy levels. Why not get your co-workers involved with a lunch time walking club – and beat the winter blues together?
Want to learn more about mental health and the workplace? Check out the latest CCOHS podcast.
Got questions about workplace wellness – physical and mental? Contact us! We’re always happy to answer your questions.