Beat the Winter Blues

Sarah Brewer

by Dr. Sarah Brewer

A Nutritionist and Doctor

Low mood can strike for many reasons, but at this time of year, lack of sunlight and low vitamin D levels may trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD). An estimated one in 14 people develop symptoms every winter, particularly during December, January and February. Four times more women are affected than men, and it is most common in younger adults between the ages of 20 to 40 years.

A wide range of physical and emotional symptoms are associated with SAD:

Physical Symptoms Emotional Symptoms
Tiredness Tearfulness
Lethargy Difficulty concentrating
General slowing down Negative thoughts
Sleepiness Low self esteem
Carbohydrate cravings Disinterest
Over-eating Slowed thoughts
Weight gain Poor memory
Low sex drive Irritability
Feeling the cold Loss of feelings
Muscle aches and pains Anxiety


The exact cause is unknown, but it is linked with changes in the level of various brain chemicals as exposure to natural sunlight is reduced. These changes may be related to a natural hibernation response. 

As SAD is linked with lack of sunlight, symptoms are often improved by using a special light box that emits bright, cool white fluorescent light (2500 lux). This fools the brain into thinking spring has arrived, so the hibernation response is reversed, your mood increases and sleepiness and lethargy improve - usually within a week or two. 

Antidepressant drugs are effective in relieving depression and can be used together with light therapy, psychotherapy, counselling and complementary therapies that help you to relax are also useful. Taking vitamin D supplements also seem to improve depression. The ultimate ‘cure’ of course, would be an extended winter holiday in sunny climes!


Dr. Sarah Brewer

Dr Sarah Brewer is a fully qualified doctor, as well as a registered nutritionist and is the Editor of Yourwellness digital magazine. Read the latest edition of Yourwellness here. Download the free app and get your free copy sent each month via your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.
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