How gardening can help you overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder

With summer a distant memory, many of us are starting to look forward to cosy nights in and Christmas. However, for a significant proportion of the British population, it’s a very different story. For them, the lack of daylight and bleak weather are triggers for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


What is SAD?

SAD is a type of depression that fluctuates seasonally. While the exact cause is not known, symptoms are most common during the winter. These symptoms include low moods, irritability, a lack of energy, sleeping for longer and craving carbohydrates.

It is believed that these symptoms are linked to a lack of sunlight as a result of shorter days. This disrupts a part of the brain — the hypothalamus — which can impact the production of melatonin and serotonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy — levels in SAD sufferers are higher than normal — while serotonin plays a part in regulating your mood, appetite and sleep. Levels of serotonin are often lower in SAD sufferers, which can create feelings of depression.

In addition to the hormonal effects mentioned above, the lack of sunlight can also alter your body clock. This can prevent you from getting the sleep you need, resulting in feelings of lethargy.

These symptoms can affect individuals differently. Generally, SAD is considered a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are those who aren’t impacted by seasonal changes. At the opposite end are the people whose lives are seriously impacted by their symptoms. Those who reside towards the middle may not suffer with SAD specifically, but could suffer with a case of the winter blues.


How can gardening help?

Believe it or not, gardening can actually help you combat the effects of SAD. Research has shown that even just touching soil — specifically mycobacterium vaccae, a type of soil bacteria — can help increase our serotonin levels and improve your mood.

However, many of us consider gardening to be a summertime pursuit and one that naturally conflicts with cold weather and dark evenings. Despite this, there are ways that you can get your hands dirty without venturing outdoors. Here, compost retailer Compost Direct shares their tips for winter gardening:

In autumn when the weather is still relatively mild, you will still be able to get outside to work. Allowing you to maximise the time spent in the dwindling sunshine, you can get to work on prepping your garden for winter.

Spend the time digging over your soil and adding organic matter, feeding your lawn, tidying the borders and maintaining your equipment. You may want to do some planting too, or harvest any vegetables you may have grown over the summer.

When winter arrives, you may want to leave gardening outdoors behind. Instead, spend your time tending to window boxes and caring for indoor plants. While they may seem like relatively minor tasks when compared with maintaining your entire garden, it will help focus your mind and improve your overall mood.

27th September 2016

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