Let’s talk about SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. This commonly-recurring mental illness rears its ugly head seasonally, and affects 10% of the New Zealand population.

Its effects range from the “winter blues” (or sub SAD) which is milder, often showing signs of feeling lethargic and down in the winter months, to a full-blown depressive state, which is caused by the seasonal changes.

Unfortunately SAD diagnosis isn’t easy and your doctor often won’t make a diagnosis without seeing a pattern of the same symptoms occurring at the same time for 2 consecutive years.

Usually SAD starts occurring at the beginning of Autumn, when the days get darker, quicker. These feelings hit their peak during the winter months, with your mood eventually lifting again in spring.

The importance of sunlight on our health

There is clearly a link between sunlight and SAD. Globally the prevalence of SAD is most extreme towards the earth’s poles, and virtually unheard of in countries closer to the equator:

Global prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is so important to be exposed to sunlight as this activates our serotonin hormones (the happy hormones!) in turn making us ‘feel good’ and uplifting our moods.

We all know how bad overexposure to direct sunlight can be, but it’s often forgotten that we need to catch some rays for our mental health too. We only need as little as 5-15 minutes of sunlight on our arms, hands and face 2 to 3 times a week, to reap the benefits of a vitamin D mood boost.

Here’s some more things you can do to beat the blues this winter.

5 ways families can battle seasonal affective disorder this Winter

So, with no early diagnosis from our GPs (and a lack of funds to take the family to the beautiful islands of Bora Bora!), what can we do to avoid falling into the winter blues trap? Below I’ve compiled a list of ways you and your family can make it through the winter without having to hibernate:

Take a walk

Make sure to set plans, small weekly goals. It’s so easy to become lazy and antisocial once winter comes. Check the weather regularly and commit to going for a walk on the good days. I like to go for walks around the beautiful coastlines of Wellington. Nothing too strenuous. And I often reward myself with a cheeky hot chocolate at the end to warm up!

I’m also part of a small Facebook walk group for new mums called: Little Wild Ones, check to see if there’s one in your area. It’s a great way of meeting new people and finding new spots to walk.

Volunteer at a pet shelter

Before having my son, I used to volunteer at the local SPCA.

They are always looking for volunteers, and if you volunteer during the week you can take the dogs out for walks around the Mount Vic tracks. Usually during the weekends it’s a bit too busy with visitors and adoptions to be able to leave site, but if you’re in the puppy pen you get ALL the free cuddles you could want!

If you aren’t able to volunteer, why not take the family to visit the puppies and kittens – be careful though, you may just end up with a new, fluffy family member!

Too cold to go outside? Have visitors over!

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should neglect your social life!

Sometimes it’s far too cold to go outside for a walk – or do anything for that matter. Having friends or family over for a board game and a bring-a-plate night, is another fun way of socialising without having to brace the wet, windy or chilly days.

If you’re a new parent you may want to invite your antenatal group over for a catch up and share notes! I attended a group catch up where we made baby sensory toys from scratch – get inventive!

Hit up your local (indoor) swimming pool

There are also lots of great heated indoor swimming pools around, some also have spas/saunas and great little cafes. Often the colder months are the quieter more unpopular times of the year to take a dip too. You’d never even know it was blowing a -1 gale southerly outside!

Some locations also offer a heated saltwater pool. This has its own health benefits such as easing aches and pains, often caused by the colder weather. Enjoy the rejuvenating effects, and igniting that happy hormone, serotonin!

Go on an impromptu holiday

SAD is often cause for ‘emergency holidays’, with some families retreating to sunny, tropical islands mid-winter.

For many Kiwis, however, going on expensive overseas trips is not financially possible. Keep an eye out on Grab a Seat and see if you can book a spur of the moment mini vacay – you can often pick up $19 flights one way if you’re quick enough. And this might leave you money to splurge on a more luxurious hotel for a night or two.

Often having something to look forward to can keep you going through the winter. Sometimes all you need is just a couple of days to get away to lift those spirits again.

Winter doesn’t have to be SAD…

New Zealand Winters can be a drag and it’s important we remain aware of how we are feeling – especially as a family. When one person isn’t in the right mindset, it’ll often affect the rest of the family. Just remember though, having your own time to yourself, is just as important as spending it together.

These are just 5 quick ideas families can use to battle seasonal affective disorder this Winter – there’s countless other ways you and your family can enjoy the Winter months (aside from watching every family movie on Netflix). Be creative with activities over the colder months and before you know it’ll be Summer again!

What are some of your favourite things to do in Winter? And how do you deal with the Winter blues?

Please check out the resources at Mental Health if you or anyone you know needs help. You should also check out 5 steps to optimal family health this winter.

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Sara Boult is a Beauty Therapist living in Wellington, New Zealand. She's also a first time Mum. Sara has a passion for creative writing and writes her own blog The Life that Chose Us. Realising how hard it was being a young mother and still being able to ‘look good’, she now freelances beauty services for mums and bubs.

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