In 2021 the world will be different. It’s a year for hope and optimism so navigating the next 8 weeks is the final stage of a tumultuous 12 months. As recently as the 9th October the WHO’s suggested that we may face “severe mental health challenges as we toll with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during winter season”  so is this compounding the normal bout of winter blues?
In the UK 69% of adults reported feeling worried about the impact of Covid-19 on their mental health with 56% feeling stressed and anxious . This is a natural reaction to uncertainty, shielding, and job security but thanks to successful vaccination trials there is light at the end of the tunnel.
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects 10+ million people in the U.S  and brain imaging studies show that low levels of serotonin, were significantly associated with the condition in the winter . Low serotonin also typifies mood conditions.
The symptoms are the same. What are the options?
The good news is that symptoms of SAD are usually alleviated with the arrival of spring  so here are 7, natural, evidence-based options to get you through to March.
1. Make sure you're getting enough tryptophan
Tryptophan is the building block of serotonin. In 2015, a study found young healthy adults that consumed a tryptophan-rich diet experienced fewer depressive symptoms and decreased anxiety  and 100g of turkey offers 404 mg of tryptophan . To enter the brain, tryptophan competes poorly with other amino acids in your diet for transporter molecules to cross the blood-brain barrier, resulting in relatively small amounts being converted into serotonin.
2. 5-HTP - a more effective serotonin enhancer?
Tryptophan is converted into another amino acid called 5-htp before becoming serotonin (5-HT) which can be taken as a food supplement. The isolated form can be extracted from the Griffonia seed and its primary benefit is its ability to freely enter the brain without the need to change shape or structure. In 2013, a study on the administration of 5-HTP supplements showed that 73% of patients with depression showed improvements in mood . The authors also deemed it to be fast-acting and fewer side effects compared to fluoxetine (pharmaceutical antidepressant).
3. The evidence for vitamin D
Vitamin D levels fluctuate in the body in response to sunlight . When outdoors, pigments in your skin absorb rays from direct sunlight to create vitamin D. Patient groups with SAD seem to have a higher incidence of vitamin D deficiency compared to the general population . A direct correlation between vitamin D deficiency and depression has yet to be proven. .
SAD lights aim to mimic natural light . The NHS suggests that there is mixed evidence on SAD lights and mood  Although one study showed its benefits on depressive symptoms after 3 weeks of continuous light therapy .
4. Get exercising!
Exercise stimulates a surge of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine . Dopamine is your reward and pleasure chemical and is associated with alertness and motivation. A simple exercise regime may help you re-find your va va voom. Something as simple as a 30-minute bike riding session once weekly reduces depressed mood after 10 to 30 minutes post-exercise. The great news is that this effect is not influenced by exercise intensity .
5. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness can take many different forms so it’s up to you to find what works best. Practising deep breathing techniques twice daily for 10 minutes for 2 weeks has shown effective in reducing depressive symptoms . If meditating is your thing then 15 -20 minutes, twice a day can reduce psychological distress . You may want to try out yoga as a 8-week yoga intervention showed significant benefits on symptoms of depression and anxiety .
6. Generosity - The gift that keeps on giving
The British Psychological Society state that random acts of kindness provide a feel-good factor , and brain imaging scans indicate elevated activity in two areas of the brain occurs during generous decision making .
7. Talking therapy
Verbalising your feelings and emotions can be a powerful form of therapy so speaking to friends or family can be a great starting point. The NHS can offer you access to a professional guidance Councellor to help you contextualise your thoughts and feelings or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This involves modifying attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours to improve positive outcomes. One study showed 8 weeks of CBT significantly reduces insomnia and depression severity in adults .