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GP recommends ways to beat the winter blues

9 January 2009

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Travelling to and from work in the dark and spending all day cooped up in an artificially lit office can bring on the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a leading GP has advised, suggesting ways to ease the symptoms.

The effects of SAD, thought to be a direct result of a lack of sunlight, send some people into a downwards spiral of exhaustion, depression and anxiety.

We subconsciously rely on sunlight, as it produces the hormones responsible for our sleep patterns, moods and our ability to concentrate – meaning that a sudden drop in our exposure to light can result in lethargy, mood swings and anxiety.

Dr Maria Read, clinical lead at the Central Sheffield GP Consortium, said: “SAD can affect people in many ways. For some people it can be very severe and can actually prevent them from living their life normally. For others, the effects can be less dramatic.

“However, whatever the severity of your case, SAD can still have a detrimental effect on your way of life, making you feel down in the dumps and generally low. You may feel less inclined to socialise and day-to-day activities that you usually carry out with ease can become frustrating and difficult to do.”

Dr Read suggests that sufferers increase their exposure to sunlight, for instance by getting out of the workplace on lunch breaks and going for a brisk walk.

“The fresh air will clear your head and the light will give you a real boost to get you through the rest of the day,” she said.

SAD disorder can also make you crave carbohydrates and in turn, lead to weight gain. So exercise and plenty of fruit and vegetables are essential, says Dr Read.

“Your body is trying to hibernate for the winter, and while none of us can afford to stay in bed for six months, it’s important that you don’t completely ignore the signs,” she said.

“Take a gentle walk or jog around the park. The exercise will release mood-enhancing hormones called endorphins and it will also counteract any comfort eating you’ve been doing!”

Dr Read recommends sufferers should discuss how they feel with a friend or family member. “Keeping quiet and allowing your emotions to eat away at you will only make you feel worse,” she said.

Central Sheffield GP Consortium

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