After having spent much of the past winter confined indoors over lockdown, it is time for us all to take stock of its impact on mental health and make plans to improve our coping mechanisms before the next winter season.
Seasonal affective disorder is caused by decreased levels of sunlight which commonly occurs during the winter. The effects of SAD often result in symptoms of depression such as a decrease of mood and energy levels, due to the disruption of one’s body clock caused by a change in seasons resulting in a feeling not far off jet lag, plus a drop in serotonin and melatonin levels.
Countries located away from the equator such as Nordic countries have a higher risk of encountering SAD due to their lack of sunlight hours. Now, it may be surprising that the citizens of Nordic countries are rated the happiest on the planet despite being the most susceptible to SAD, but because of their coping methods, it has less of an impact. These methods include having a diet of oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring which contain omega fatty acids and vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin” you get from sunlight.
They also follow the Danish lifestyle of hygge which is very important in their culture, and the similar Norwegian version known as koselig. A key feature of this lifestyle is staying cozy. Through wearing warm clothes, surrounding themselves with fireplaces, drinking soup and simply living for the simpler things in life, these Nordic countries are able to bear the harsh winter weather much more easily.
Despite having a lifestyle revolving around warmth, the Nordics still go out and appreciate nature. Through looking to natural beauty and living life with a positive outlook, the psychological and physiological health of Nordic residents during the winter are often better than other countries.
An easy way to combat SAD that will not involve changing lifestyles is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Some countries have clinics for light therapy, however you can also just purchase a lightbox which will provide a source of artificial sunlight.
My family bought one during the long winter break in London, and had daily sessions during breakfast, which probably helped keep our spirits up during the short, dark days.
Through having daily sessions with the lightbox, the symptoms of SAD should be alleviated. The artificial sunlight should raise one’s melatonin and serotonin levels, and also help your body clock adjust.
By recognising symptoms of SAD and planning ahead to make adjustments, those who struggled this past year, will be able to cope better when winter returns.