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HEALTH The winter blues, or SAD

No need to be SAD

James Geraghty

I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to learn that January and February are among the most depressing months of the year, and not least because of the shorter days and colder weather. For many of us the colder, darker months can cause changes to our sleep patterns, energy levels and mood. We’ve all heard of the winter blues!
For some however, low mood and fatigue can develop into a mild depressive condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. The condition affects around 2 million people in the UK and Ireland, and over 12 million people in Northern Europe. It is mostly triggered by lack of sunlight, which is why it is common during the darker months and why it is referred to as seasonal.
Insufficient sunlight can affect our levels of serotonin, the so-called happy hormone responsible for our sense of wellbeing, and melatonin, which is responsible for normal sleeping patterns. Low mood, lack of concentration and energy, difficulty sleeping, flu-like aches and pains and a change in appetite are some of the most common symptoms.

Herbal remedies
Fortunately, herbal remedies can help, and one that’s particularly useful at this time of year is Rhodiola rosea. Grown in the arctic regions of Siberia, this Russian remedy can help to combat stress, fatigue and most significantly, low mood.
As an adaptogenic herb (one which helps the body to adapt to various stressors), Rhodiola is thought to boost the body’s resistance to low mood by regulating chemical imbalances, such as low levels of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin.
As well as helping to improve mood, it can also help to regulate erratic sleep patterns, making it a popular remedy for shift workers where the sleep-wake pattern is continually interrupted.
While there are no known contraindications, you should always consult your GP or healthcare professional before embarking on any new course of treatment, and especially so if already on any prescribed medicines.


A good multivitamin can also help. If you’re feeling tired and sluggish you could probably do with a multivitamin that contains extra vitamin B5. B5, or pantothenic acid, is needed to convert food into energy and to help support the normal functioning of the adrenal glands.


Exercise can also make a big difference, especially in the early morning, as it stimulates the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ hormones, and can help to improve your mood for the rest of the day.

Natural light
If you can’t get out and about a natural-light lamp providing a source of natural light indoors, can help to keep hormonal changes to a minimum.

If symptoms persist, consult your GP.