Many people feel lethargic and a little bit low during the winter months, but for about 5% of the population, more severe symptoms occur - these people suffer from the very appropriately named SAD or seasonal affective disorder. A high proportion of SAD sufferers are older women, and this condition can seriously affect quality of life. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to stave off the worst of the winter blues.
Light Up Your Life
If you can afford it, the go-to treatment for SAD is a special lightbox which mimics natural daylight. These range in price from around £80 to several hundred. Sitting near the lightbox for 30 minutes each morning can bring about a dramatic improvement in SAD symptoms.
Think About Your Diet
An underactive thyroid is a common problem in older people, and the complications of this can exacerbate SAD symptoms. Get your thyroid checked quickly and easily at the GP. Sharp swings in blood sugar are also not helpful for those suffering from depressive symptoms, so try to cut out caffeine and foods such as white bread, biscuits and cakes - but be sensible about it. No point denying yourself treats if that's going to make you feel even more miserable!
Eat little and often, and try to start the day with something which will slow release goodness into your bloodstream, such as a bowl of porridge. Another dietary culprit behind SAD symptoms can be vitamin D deficiency - and in older women, this can also put you at risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D is largely absorbed into our bodies via exposure to sunlight, but in winter, of course, that's a problem. Consider a good vitamin supplement to tide you over, but do discuss this with your doctor.
Keep Yourself Moving
Exercise might be the last thing on your mind, but it's known that exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural feel good chemicals. If you can get out of doors to do a bit of gardening or to take a daily walk, so much the better - you'll be exercising and maximising whatever sunlight there is.
Negativity Can Be Helpful
When it's negative ions we're talking about, that is. Negative ions are at their most concentrated near the sea, but if you're not lucky enough to live near the beach, consider an ioniser instead. Negative ions are thought to boost serotonin levels and to lower melatonin levels, both of which should help to minimise symptoms of SAD.
Create a Toolbox of Cheer
Make a list of things and activities which make you feel happy - anything from Skyping with the grandkids to watching your favourite film. If you can put a dozen or so things on this list, you'll have something to reach for when you need an instant mood boost.
The causes of SAD are still unclear, but these strategies should help you to face the winter with more confidence - and don't forget that your GP is there to help too.