Let’s face it: with the exception of Strictly, new season TV schedules and possibly porridge, autumn can be something of a bummer. Getting out of bed in the morning is that little bit harder as the mercury sinks downwards and the rain starts pounding relentlessly at your window. There is no doubt about it – the shorter days and lack of sunlight can have a profound effect on our happiness.
Though we’re often told that UV rays are bad for us, moderate exposure to sunlight is essential for our health and wellbeing. UV light absorbed through the skin produces vitamin D, which promotes serotonin production. And as we all know, serotonin is the happy hormone. Vitamin D also enhances the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells in the body. So, it’s unsurprising then, that winter is the period when happiness levels dip and we’re more likely to get sick. It’s a vicious cycle.
[Related: Snuggly jumpers for autumn and winter]
Luckily, there are things we can do to keep our spirits up and our health in check during the colder months:
1. Eat healthily
Nuts and fresh fruit and veg will boost your immune system. Plump for cabbage (full of antioxidants and readily available in winter), almonds (a 60g serving will give you almost half of the recommend daily amount of vitamin E, which helps maintain a healthy immune system), carrots, garlic and spinach. (More superfoods you should be eating this season.)
2. Exercise regularly
Anything that gets the heart rate going will release endorphins, while yoga is also recommended for its mood-boosting effects. “Exercise stimulates the production of the brain’s feel-good hormones and it can be as effective in tackling mild to moderate depression as anti-depressants,” says Beth Murphy, Information Manager at mental health charity, Mind. “A Mind study found that, even after a short walk, 71 per cent of people reported a decrease in depression and 90 per cent had increased self-esteem.”
3. Get outdoors
It’s important to take advantage of every ounce of natural daylight in winter, so if it’s a bright, clear day, grab a friend and go for a bracing walk.
4. Take supplements
In winter, the body’s reserves run out natural vitamin D provided by the summer sun, leaving the immune system vulnerable. For an extra boost, as well as taking vitamin D, add vitamin B12, Cod Liver Oil or Paradox Oil and Echinacea for its anti-cold properties to your daily routine.
[Related: Eat yourself better]
5. Keep warm
Being cold makes you more depressed, so pile on those thermals, sip on hot drinks and aim to keep your home between 18°C and 21°C.
Follow these tips and you should start to notice an improvement in your mood. But for some of us, a little more help may be required.
“For those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the changes in mood and behaviour are much more severe and happen regularly, each winter, following a seasonal pattern,” says Beth.
“SAD may affect as many as a third of us in the UK, but the problem often goes undiagnosed. People with the condition can experience fatigue, anxiety, loss of libido, sleep problems, mood swings and depression. Symptoms can start to emerge between September and November and continue until March, April or even May.”
One of the most effective treatments for SAD is light therapy, which helps around 80 per cent of sufferers. Mimicking outdoor light, phototherapy exposes the patient to very bright light, at least ten times the intensity of domestic lighting, for one to two hours a day. Prices for a light box start in the region of £60.
Talking treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and in severe cases, mild antidepressants, can also help ease the symptoms of SAD. See your GP for more information or contact The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA).
It can be tempting to reach for carbs, hot chocolate and guilty pleasure TV when we’re feeling down (a recommended go-to series when it’s wet and miserable is The OC – as surely one can absorb vitamin D from the Californian sun just by watching). But don’t forget the best approach to beating the winter blues is a diet full of fresh and seasonal fruit and veg, and regular exercise, even if you don’t feel like it.
There’s no harm in keeping The OC and a packet of Hob Nobs on standby though. Just in case.
Stay healthy this season with more advice on beating bugs this autumn.