Upcoming Winter Alert: Avoid SAD; take your share of the sun

Ingy Deif, Sunday 10 Nov 2013

Experts say SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is uncommon in Egypt, but that the upcoming winter might trigger the blues in some. Ahram Online offers a guide to understanding seasonal mood swings

photo: Reuters
photo: Reuters

Although summer with its sun and shine is the equivalent of a mood booster all over the world, people differ in terms of how they feel when the weather gets gloomy during autumn and winter.

To some, all seasons are the same in terms of their mood. But to others, autumn and winter bring the blues, which can range from a mild low feeling to a severe bout of depression.

What happens when the sun goes away

According to Dr Ali Imam, a psychiatrist, SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, affects mostly European countries and other parts of the world where glowing sunlight is relatively absent at year's end, when the weather gets colder and the skies often cloudier. The absence of adequate sunlight contributes into an imbalance in the chemistry of the body, leading to mood problems.

"Two main hormones are affected by what we call 'the dark morning' in which there is no sunlight in the morning: serotonin — dubbed as the happy hormone — takes a plunge, and melatonin, which tends to increase in levels, making a person more sleepy," explains Imam.

Spot the signs

Symptoms vary between persons according to various factors, but they can generally be listed as follows:

- Feelings of exhaustion and lethargy

- Disturbances in sleeping patterns

- Overindulgence in comfort foods, like sweets and carbohydrates

- Bouts of anxiety and irritability

Imam says Egyptian psychiatrists rarely stumble on cases of patients suffering from SAD. Nevertheless, many Egyptians get a little depressed, and show mild symptoms of the seasonal disorder, during the onset of winter — especially those who go to their offices early in the morning, when it is barely light, and stay extremely late, skipping the entire period of sunlight while indoors.

"In Europe, they innovated gadgets that mimic sunlight in closed rooms, to combat the problem. In Egypt, rarely do we prescribe anti-depressants or recommend cognitive behavioural therapy. Usually we just advise patients to go outdoors, play sports, treat themselves to what boosts their mood, and eat healthy food," Imam says.

Food for good moods

Speaking of food, Dr Fawzi El-Shobaki, professor of nutrition at the National Research Institute, stresses that mild cases of lethargy and low moods can be naturally combated through what we eat, underlining that junk food and fatty foods, in which people often overindulge in cold weather, actually have a negative effect in the long run.

El-Shobaki recommends a diet rich in the following:

- Bananas and avocadoes

- Turkey, fish and chicken

- Nuts

- Milk and cheese

- Eggs

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