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Defy the darkness

Do you get the winter blues? Read our tips for how to cope with SAD, stay motivated and keep your energy levels up

According to Mental Health Ireland seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect approximately one in 15 people between September and April. Linked to reduced levels of serotonin in the body, some people cannot function in winter without continuous treatment. Others may experience sub-syndromal SAD or ‘winter blues’. Common symptoms include sleep problems, lethargy, depression, apathy, anxiety, loss of libido, weakened immune system and mood changes.

“Customers can be sluggish, lethargic and perhaps lacklustre at this time of year,” says Matt Ronan of health store Evolv, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

“I see a lot of people in-store looking for advice on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter,” says Tara Connolly Beirne from health store Tattie Hoaker in Roscommon. “December to February are the worst months. People often feel tired, run down and generally ‘low’, but often they don’t realise that is what they are experiencing. The symptoms can impact on their daily lives, leaving sufferers with less interest in socialising and other activities they normally enjoy.”

Lifestyle advice

“Because SAD is the body’s reaction to a lack of daylight in winter it’s really important to get as much daylight as possible,” says Tara Connolly Beirne. “Get up earlier to make the most of the daylight hours. During the day wrap up warm and go outside every chance you get, even during your lunch break. If you work indoors try to sit near a window while working or use mirrors to reflect daylight. You might not feel like it but exercise will help – even better if it’s done outdoors. A half-hour walk will make such a difference. Eat well to boost immunity and take it easy on yourself, relax and rest when you can. Take steps to minimise stress. Avoid the sources where possible and use mindfulness, meditation or yoga to help deal with the rest.”

  • The body makes the feelgood hormone serotonin from tryptophan which is found in fish, bananas, dairy products, soya, almonds and peanuts.
  • Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is in short supply in winter – good food sources are fortified dairy products such as yogurts, salmon, eggs, tuna and tofu.
  • Keeping your gut flora balanced can have a positive effect on mood and feelings, so take a multi-strain live bacteria supplement.


“Alternative therapies which have been found to help cope with SAD include acupuncture, reflexology and massage,” says Tara Connolly Beirne. “These can really boost energy levels and immunity. Sometimes a little ‘me time’ can be just what’s needed.”

“Having an activity which generates some mental interest and energy like yoga would help in this type of situation,” says Matt Ronan.

Aromatherapy oils can have a positive effect on your mood, whether it’s a few drops in a bath, a massage or oils in a burner. Oils good for sadness include ylang ylang, bergamot, rose and neroli.


Tara Connolly Beirne: “A good multivitamin and omega-3 oil can help boost immunity and energy levels and are a great place to start. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and many people become deficient during the winter months so a supplement is a good idea. Look for vitamin D3, preferably with K2 to help with calcium absorption.”

Matt Ronan: “Top of the list will be vitamin D and a top quality energy-boosting supplement with something like rhodiola which has an element of mood support to it which can be invaluable.”

Light therapy

“Many people find light therapy gadgets help and light boxes can be bought reasonably cheaply – just make sure it’s medically certified to treat SAD [emits white rather than blue light], and you check with your doctor first,” says Tara Connolly Beirne. “As little as 30 minutes a day treatment time can help and the light can sit on your desk or wherever you’re working. Just make sure to use it early in the day so as not to disrupt sleep. You can also buy light bulbs which mimic daylight and alarm clocks which simulate sunrise.”

Final word

Tara Connolly Beirne “Above all, listen to your body. If you need more rest in winter go along with that natural inclination to ‘hibernate, but try not to let yourself get too isolated. If your symptoms are severe or worsening check with your health practitioner. Look after yourself and before you know it the days will be lengthening and it’ll be spring again!”

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