How to get winter sunshine in your life, even without going abroad

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Feeling SAD? How to combat those telltale signs

Spring is just around the corner! But if you just can't wait, here's some ideas to avert any symptoms of SAD through the last days of winter...

1. Search for sunshine 

Getting as much natural sunlight as you can boosts vitamin D levels which are important for all aspects of health, as well as improving mental health.

This is much more difficult in the winter obviously, when most of the UK is bathed in gloom and rain keeps people indoors... which is why winter holidays are such a good idea if you are able to get away.

There's something wonderful about going on holiday in the dead of winter when you're stuck in a 9-5 office rut with little chance to step outside. See Six winter breaks for some ideas of places to go to find winter sunshine. Don't forget the sunscreen!

2. See the (day) light

Not everyone can jet off to the Canary Islands for a rejuvenating week or two, in which case getting outside every day even if that means walking to work and back, is crucial. 

If that isn't enough in the depths of winter to boost you, there is another way. Increasing evidence reveals that light therapy is an effective way to treat the disorder.

Just as sunlight naturally makes you feel good, topping up with extra bright light in the winter months, or when you're stuck indoors, has been proven to put people in a better mood and make them feel more awake.

Using a SAD lightbox every day has been found to reduce symptoms of SAD such as tiredness, over-eating and a lack of energy and motivation. Lumie, which makes a range of lightboxes and other products, suggests using it first thing in the morning while you're having breakfast, for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Eat sunshine foods

The human body needs Vitamin D to keep bones strong and healthy. We mostly absorb the vitamin from sunlight but certain foods can be a great way of boosting your levels – and many people in the UK and Ireland are vitamin D deficient without knowing it.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for young children to adults is 600 IU (International Units). But when sunlight hides behind the clouds for the winter months, a change in diet may be needed to top up your sucan provide your Vitamin D intake: Salmon fillet, (smoked salmon is even higher in vitamin D), mackerel, herring, trout and tinned tuna are all good, as are other fish.

Perhaps surprisingly, the modest mushroom is good. But choose your mushrooms carefully: a morchella mushroom is best – it has the highest amount of vitamin D.

Many breakfast cereals are now fortified and loaded with vitamin D (although beware of high sugar cereals).

If you can eat liver, beef innards are a good source of Vitamin D, as are eggs. Cheese: A slice of cheddar contains 6.7 IU – as does a slice of gruyere – and a slice of mozzarella contains 3.6 IU.

In the UK, it is a requirement for all margarines to be fortified with Vitamin D. Alfafa can be used as a salad or sandwich garnish to boost your Vitamin D intake in the process. 

Or take vitamin D tablets or spray and keep it handy.

4. Improve your work environment

A sedentary job stuck in front of a screen all day with no natural light compounds matters, even if you don't feel that it has much of a knock-on effect.

Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible. Sit near windows when you're indoors, or if that's not an option, walk to the window/door regularly and look out. Open windows wherever possible and fill your lungs with fresh air... stuffy environments can make you feel extra sleepy when you're trying to work.  

A brief lunchtime walk or even just a dash to the sandwich shop can be beneficial in the hours of daylight. Or make your lunch hour a time to start that exercise regime you've been promising to begin since the New Year...

5. Get yourself a dawn simulator

Lumie’s ‘Bodyclock’ in 1991 brought light therapy into the mainstream. Also called a dawn simulator, the alarm clock is designed to wake you gradually with increasing natural light.

This is a signal for your body to ease production of sleep hormones (e.g. melatonin) and increase those that help you get up and go (e.g. cortisol). Wake-up lights help to keep your sleep cycle on track, boosting mood, energy and productivity levels.

The Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University used a Bodyclock Active to see what impact waking up with light would have on performance. They recruited eight subjects that were prone to 'sleep inertia' - waking up with that groggy, still-half-asleep feeling. Compared with waking in dim light, the 30-minute sunrise left subjects feeling more refreshed and alert on waking up.

Cognitive tests showed that average reaction times in this group were significantly quicker. There was also a physical challenge, to complete a 4km cycling time-trial as fast as possible; waking up with light shaved an average of 21 seconds from their time. Just saying.

6. Avoid stress 

If possible, avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress, as long-term exposure can cause a host of health problems including sleep disorders and nervous fatigue.

Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them, and heed advice on how to prevent this happening in the future.

Advice from healthcare professionals includes improving sleep hygiene, which may mean avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine; trying relaxation techniques and mindfulness, managing your time and sharing your worries with a friend or partner.

Make sure you factor in some 'me time' to do the things you love, even if you have to schedule it in to your diary to make it happen.

Countless studies have shown that exposure to nature reduces stress and boosts well-being. See our feature Bringing nature in for ideas on how to get more nature into your life.

7. Exercise, exercise, exercise

Take plenty of regular exercise – particularly outdoors and during the hours of daylight – which involves increasing your heart rate.

Pumping more oxygen to the brain and around the body boosts mood and has well-documented long term health benefits all round.

Get your family involved as well - the earlier you get your children used to regular exercise and walks in the countryside the more likely it is to remain a habit for them when they are older...and your grandchildren too.



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