What’s great about winter? It’s hard to jump out of bed, commuting is a nightmare and we rack up a fortune in electricity and gas bills. We aren’t even treated to snow in most parts of Australia! No wonder the majority of people acquire a grumpy look on their face when the cold chill arrives.
While we may think the case of the “winter blues” is just a passing phase, for some it’s a full-blown episode of depression. Psychologists call this form of depression Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly named SAD). SAD is not just snoozing your alarm clock to fit in that extra snuggle time in before braving the elements – the illness leaves a number of people (one in 300 Australians, to be precise) unable to function normally over the winter period. Victims of SAD are prone to hypersomnia, overeating, lowered self-esteem and increased anxiety. Sound like a nightmare? Here are a few tips to conquer to winter blues so you can prevent the onset of SAD.
Go for a walk
Scientists believe that SAD is caused by low levels of melatonin in the body. More melatonin makes us tired, whereas less of the hormone keeps us alert. The sun plays an important role- when sunlight hits our eyes it suppresses melatonin production. At night we’re not exposed to sunlight and the melatonin levels shoot up- we get sleepy. Crazy yet true!
Even if it’s a grey morning, it is recommended to go outside for at least half an hour to boost your sunlight exposure. A study by Duke University revealed that patients who walked for 30 minutes three times a week felt more cheerful. So step away from those Tim Tams and start moving!
Take your lunch break
SAD is more common in people who spend most of their time indoors– for example, office employees who work long hours. During winter, it’s a good idea to take a break from your computer and go for a walk during lunch time. It’s hard to go outside on a grey day, but getting your blood pumping will be beneficial to your mood and energy levels.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
As well as melatonin, the lack of sun in wintertime can result in lower levels of serotonin, the hormone that regulates hunger. That’s probably why when the cold sets in we’d rather be at home on the couch eating chocolate. It is recommended to eat foods such as popcorn, oatmeal, fruit and whole grain bread that contain healthy carbohydrates in order to fill you up so you can avoid reaching for that piece of cake.
Chase the sun
We’re lucky in Australia to have a vast, sprawling climate. Dreaming of escaping the winter chill? The mean temperature in Sunny Cairns is 26 degrees in June. Pack your bathers already! Yearning for a different experience? The Kimberley in Western Australia offers pristine beaches set among a backdrop of extraordinary sunburnt gorges. In addition, the mean temperature during the winter peak is 29 degrees! Sometimes a beach break in your own backyard is all you need to beat those winter blues.
Consider professional help
If you are still struggling with the blues don’t worry- you’re not alone. One out of every five Australians is diagnosed with a mental illness each year. The good news is that mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and SAD can be treated as physical conditions and with the right treatment, most people can recover. According to beyondblue, the sooner a person with a mental disorder seeks support, the sooner he or she can beat it.
It’s always best to talk over your symptoms with your local general practitioner (GP) if you’ve noticed a change in your mood and behaviour. Don’t be afraid to talk it over with your doctor: they’re trained to be discreet. They’ll be able to talk over the best methods of treatment for you and prepare a GP management plan for your illness. Under Medicare, you will be able to receive a rebate on psychologist visits if you’ve been referred to one by your GP. Some health insurance providers offer psychology as an extra. This should cover the “gap” you have to pay after the rebate. If you think this extra could be of use to you, compare policies to see how much it may cost you.
Along with psychological visits, you may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to handle your illness. Please see beyondblue’s fact sheet on depression and anxiety for further information about medical treatment.
If you think you require urgent attention, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Their trained Telephone Crisis Supporters are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.