Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects almost one in three people – and ‘winter blues’ or ‘January blues’ can be particularly difficult if you are menopausal. Here’s a five-point Live Better With plan for coping…
It’s estimated that over half of all UK adults think that their general mood is worse in winter and four in every 10 suffer from fatigue. Almost one person in three suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and women are 40 per cent more likely to suffer from SAD than men. If you’re going through menopause, you may have found your SAD symptoms have become worse or perhaps they started with menopause?
We’ve put together some tips, advice and recommendations to help you to manage your menopause in winter.
How can winter make menopausal symptoms worse?
Less daylight during winter months causes our melatonin levels to go up. It’s a hormone that helps to control sleep and our body cycle; when there’s less daylight, we produce too much and can start to feel lethargic and low – typical SAD symptoms. Melatonin also affects ovarian hormones so, when winter comes, you could find yourself grappling with the double whammy of menopause and SAD.
While winter may bring some temporary relief from the intensity of menopausal hot flushes, the drop in temperature could make other symptoms such as fatigue, low feelings, dry skin, vaginal dryness, and aches and joint pain worse. As one Live Better With Menopause community member said: ‘I also suffer with SAD each winter . . . and it has hit me badly this year. I’ve been very weepy and lethargic, drained, sensitive and foggy brained. It takes me an hour to wake up and I’m operating at the speed of a snail on Valium.’
Our five-point plan to help you feel better in winter
If you’re feeling worse than ever, our five-point plan could help ease your menopausal symptoms:
- Eating well in winter
- Moving in winter
- Winter vitamins and supplements
- SAD lights in winter
- Making the most of winter
1) Eating well in winter
This is the time to enjoy:
- Pulses – chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and other pulses are packed full of phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens). A great base for hearty winter casseroles, soups and tagines.
- Greens – have plenty of green vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, sprouts and spring greens. High in calcium and magnesium for bone density.
- Seeds and nuts – ideal snack foods or add them to muesli and porridge for a healthy breakfast. High in polyunsaturated fats and acids, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Flaxseeds are great during menopause: rich in omega-3 and omega-6 and help to regulate metabolism.
- Fish – if you enjoy fish, have at least two helpings of oily cold-water varieties, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel or herring, every week. A good source of omega-3 and can help to reduce hot flushes and depression.
- Squash – autumn and winter are the seasons for brightly coloured squashes such as pumpkin and butternut. Use in nourishing soups, roasted with other winter veg, or grated and added to pasta sauces. Full of vitamin A and rich in fibre too so, if menopausal constipation is a problem, they could be the answer.
- Fruit – fresh or dried, both are good for you. Many fruits contain boron (good for bone density) and prunes, in particular, can help to reduce hot flushes, as well as being high in fibre.
2) Exercising in winter
Unless you’re a regular at the gym or a die-hard runner, swimmer or cyclist, for example, it can be hard to summon up the energy or motivation to get moving. But little and often is the way to go; try to do something every day – go for a lunchtime walk, or use simple exercise equipment at home.
The latest NHS guidelines on moderate exercise recommend 150 minutes a week, so aim for just over 20 minutes a day and you’re on target! Check your progress and stay motivated with a fitness tracker.
3) Winter vitamins and supplements
Although we shouldn’t go overboard and call Vitamin D the wonder vitamin, there is growing evidence to support its importance in keeping us healthy. It’s great for our bones and sleep, and for enhancing our mood. The best way to get Vitamin D is to be out in daylight and sunshine every day but, unfortunately, typical UK weather isn’t very helpful in this respect; it’s almost impossible to get the full amount of Vitamin D that we need just from being outside.
Live Better With Menopause community member, Sue, says: ‘I have a hot sunny holiday every January . . . I just go by myself and just relax and it helps me knowing I have it to look forward to.’
We recommend asking your GP to check your Vitamin D levels; if they are low, you may be advised to take a Vitamin D supplement.
Live Better With Menopause community member, Tanya, had typical SAD symptoms: ‘I was diagnosed with it quite a few years ago. I take Vitamin D; getting up earlier also helps, even when I don’t feel like it, as the more natural daylight you can get, the better.’
Vitamin D works best when taken with Vitamin K2 and magnesium, so ask your GP, or other qualified naturopath, for advice on what to take.
St John’s Wort (Hypericum) has also been shown to be effective in lifting mild depression.
As with any supplement, our advice is always to check with a qualified medical professional to ensure that it is suitable for you and won’t affect any other medication you might be taking.
4) SAD lights in winter
Many people who suffer from SAD have found that using a special SAD light can make a difference both to their mood and to the quality of their sleep. They work by creating artificial daylight, which helps to regulate melatonin levels.
One Live Better With Menopause customer, who was suffering with low mood reported: ‘It’s particularly hard at work and when out and about. I’ve bought a Litebook that sits on my desk at work and the difference to my overall mood has been tremendous.’
Take a look at the SAD lights available in the Live Better With Menopause shop.
5) Make the most of winter
Danish winters are long and dark but Danes are reported to be the happiest people in the world. One of the contributing factors is that they have cultivated the art of hygge – the art of enjoying the moment so, in winter, it means embracing cosy living; for example, meeting friends, or inviting them round, for a hot chocolate, and having a pile of comfy cushions and a throw or blanket or two to curl up in, if your hot flushes permit! And don’t forget a good book. Why not start with a weekly hygge evening and see how you get on?
(NB – Recent research suggests we should go easy on the candles so beloved of the Danes; candles may look inviting but used in excess they might not be great for our health.)
Above all, don’t neglect your social life in winter. Keeping in touch with friends and enjoying social activities will help to keep your menopausal sprits lifted.
Visit the Live Better With Menopause Community Forum – for information, advice, and tips and to share your own questions and suggestions.