How to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Nobody enjoys waking up to run when it’s still pitch black outside – or coming home from work when darkness has fallen – so it’s no surprise that 20 per cent of the UK’s population is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months. SAD is a depressive illness, often called winter blues, which is caused by lack of daylight at this time of year. Sufferers may feel that they are depressed, lacking in energy and that they sleep too much – but the good news is that there are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms of SAD, and running is one of them.

Check out these easy ways to avoid mid-winter misery and motivate yourself to keep on running until spring arrives.   

Don’t miss out on your vitamin D

The lack of sunlight is the major factor in causing SAD. The shortage of rays means that we get enough vitamin D, and studies have shown that people with lower levels of vitamin D have a greater chance of depression. Make an effort to get outside during your lunch break – to run or walk – to soak up a rare bit of winter sun and consider supplementing your diet with vitamin-D rich foods such as salmon, eggs and mushrooms. If you also consider picking up some vitamin D tablets from the pharmacy if you want a super-effective boost.

Light up your life

The most effective treatment of SAD is the use of a certified SAD light box or lamp, which is proven to work for 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. Without enough morning light your body can fail to produce the hormones to give you energy but a light box can remedy that. Spend just half an hour sitting in front of one of these each morning and after just three or four days you should experience positive results. You can find a light box online for as little as £25.

Morning call

Many runners who have troubled waking up on dark mornings swear by wake-up lights, which simulate sunrise to wake the body more naturally. You can set the light to start lighting up 15 to 30 minutes before you set your alarm, and by the time your alarm goes off, you should have woken up naturally, feeling refreshed. Wake-up lights feature a variety of brightness settings and sounds such as birdsong, as well as the settings you’d expect from a regular radio alarm clock. Check out our wake-up light reviews for good options for runners. 

Don’t be stuck in your ways

There’s no doubt that darkness and bad weather can affect your enthusiasm when it’s time to go for a run, but instead of using the lack of light as an excuse to do nothing, you need to be flexible and creative in your approach. If you find it too cold or dark to get up to run first thing in the morning, try fitting in a run in your lunch hour or during the afternoon. If it’s too icy to safely run outside, head to the gym to train on the treadmill instead. If you usually run through parks that close early in winter, try an alternative route along roads that are well-lit by street lamps. If you’ve taken a break from running due to the winter weather, the best way to get back into a healthy routine is to start with a short run of five, 10 or 20 minutes. The first run should improve your mood and your motivation should follow.

Get through it together

A great way to stay motivated in the gloomy winter months is to focus on the social side of running. Arranging to meet a running partner can encourage you stick to a schedule as you won’t want to let your friend down, and the run will fly by if you’re having a pleasant chat during or after your session. Joining a running group can also help to maintain your focus if the short days are getting you down.

Beat carb cravings

Don’t let SAD ruin your diet. One of the symptoms of SAD is craving high-carb comfort foods, but don’t let your instincts over-ride your common sense. Professor Stephen Josephson, clinical associate professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, says high-carb food is like a drug: “It has some anti-anxiety effects, but over time it has negative effects, too.” Don’t give in and tuck in to a plate of chips just because it’s dark outside.

Be sure to seek professional help if you are suffering from the symptoms of SAD or depression.