Banish those winter blues
FOR James Langley, the onset of winter was when the problems started.
The 39-year-old traced it back to when he left school at 17 and took up a high-pressure sales job.
"That autumn I began to feel sluggish and lethargic," he says. "I knew I wasn't functioning properly, but I didn't know why. I felt the clouds were closing in around me."
A few winters later he went to see a doctor who put his unhappy condition down to stress. A holiday did the trick, but James now thinks it was the actual sunshine which benefited him and not the time off work.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
By his late 20s he had accepted that winter was a difficult time.
"I find it very hard to concentrate at work, despite loving my job," he says. "By nature I'm social, but I yearn to stay in and eat junk food. I am usually single in the winter. By Christmas I just want to be on my own and hibernate."
Three years ago he again went to see a doctor, who ruled out any physical problems.
"He couldn't find anything wrong, and suggested it could be SAD," says James "My initial feeling was one of relief — partly that there was nothing physically threatening — and also because I knew what I was dealing with."
He is not alone.
One in 100 Britons become depressed in winter and suffer from SAD. Millions more have low spirits. And maybe the spate of washout summers is making the problem worse.
So it is a case of cherishing every moment of natural light. March 31 next year seems a long way off.
Between Sunday and then, hours of darkness abound ahead of British Summer Time 2013.
For some it may mean leaving home for work or college and returning at the end of the day in the gloom. And maybe the spate of washout summers is making the problem worse.
Some people may regard the winter blues as just a myth, but there is now sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods.
The Mental Health Foundation estimates that one in eight people in the UK experience a mild low mood during winter, with symptoms including lethargy, craving for sugary foods and sleep problems. Those sufferers fall short of full depression, but SAD does hit 500,000 Brits, so it is not a problem to be sniffed at.
What makes SAD different from other forms of depression is that it recurs in winter and is linked to the reduction in the number of hours of sunshine and its intensity.
This makes it more common in countries 30 degrees north or south of the Equator. It's estimated that between two and three per cent of the adult population in these countries are seriously affected, and one in 10 to a lesser degree.
It's thought to be caused partly by a lack of the brain chemical serotonin. This is responsible for regulating appetite and sleep, and people with SAD may have abnormally low levels of this chemical in winter.
They may also have more melatonin than normal. This brain chemical slows down the body clock and affects sleeping and mood patterns. People with SAD may respond to a decrease in light by secreting more melatonin, making them more sleepy.
Onset of SAD is most common in your 20s, and women are more likely to be affected than men. Doctors also think it may be hereditary.
But there is plenty you can do to alleviate this unwelcome condition.
Richard Burden, of Swansea Clinic in Walter Road, has been a registered osteopath and naturopath for 24 years. He suggests an holistic approach, including light therapy boxes which replicate the levels of natural daylight and taking herbs.
"A lack of light can be a problem," he adds.
"Light is very important. A lack of light changes people's moods. It stops the production of the important hormone melatonin.
"Get out into the sunshine if you can.
"If people don't get light they can get depressed.
"Some healthy outdoor light helps, as does more exercise. Light therapy, whether it is bright lights indoors or natural light outdoors, helps."
Comfort eating, though, is to be avoided, however tempting an option in the middle of winter. "People should eat more fruit and vegetables, more nuts, seeds and wholegrains," he says. "That will help. Eating them and pulses will help decrease the cravings for sweets, which are a negative effect.
"To banish the winter blues people have to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Good food and exercise will boost the immune system."
Zetta Flew is secretary of Swansea Ramblers and points to the great outdoors as the perfect antidote to SAD.
"Any time you get out there it is good for you physically and mentally," she says. "Even the other day, which was a terrible day, I was driving along Mumbles Road and in the distance I could see the hills of Devon and I thought 'there is a world out there'.
"Sometimes, when the weather is bad, people have said that when they got up they did not fancy it. But after they did the walk, they said they were glad they had done it. Being outside walking is good for your mental and physical wellbeing."
Group treasurer and Evening Post columnist Andrew Morgan is not going to disagree.
"A day out in the fresh air clears your mind, gives you a chance to meet people and allows you to see marvellous surroundings," he said.
And it is not as if South West Wales is lacking when it comes to scenic walks. Llanelli's Millennium Coastal Path, Aberavon and Swansea seafronts, Gower in all its glory and parks like Margam and Singleton in the city are obvious destinations.
Andrew's advice is to eat up those miles.
"It really gives you a high," he says.