It can affect people of any age, including children. Shorter days and less sunlight affect our body’s internal clock and brain chemistry resulting in the feeling of depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and social withdrawal…
The degree of depression is in turn dependent on your genetics as well as your individual brain chemistry constitution. This article will briefly explore what SAD is all about and what you can do to improve your mood and enjoy more energy during this winter season.
What is winter blues?
Winter blues or SAD is a form of mood disorder in which people who normally don’t suffer from a mental health condition will experience symptoms of depression, most commonly associated with winter. What happens is that lack of sunlight in the northern latitudes causes the brain to work overtime producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body clock and sleep patterns, but there’s also greater removal of serotonin (a neurotransmitter associated with depression when its levels drop).
The farther away you live from the equator, the greater the risk you’ll have some degree of winter depression. The degree of this sensitivity, and resulting winter depression severity, largely stems from some combination of other factors such as your exact geography, genetics, and individual composition of brain chemistry and wiring.
How can we get more energy and less fatigue?
If you cannot afford a trip to Florida or the Caribbean, the solution is to get as much sunlight as possible! According to experts, you need about 30 minutes of sun light exposure done first thing in the morning.
Unfortunately, artificial light does not help, but UV lighting can. By getting the right lighting first thing in the morning you ensure that your internal clock is on its springtime cycle during the winter, and that’s how the depressive symptoms may be alleviated.
- Get outside and keep active: Go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at noon, and on sunny days. Indoor lighting does not have the same effect as sunlight, no matter how bright it is. Research has shown that a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light therapy for SAD.
- Natural remedies: Make sure you get your vitamins; B vitamins and vitamin D in particular. B vitamins help balance you carbohydrate metabolism, and are involved in the production of the “I feel good” hormone serotonin (i.e. niacin). Vitamin D, on the other hand, is a hormone-like vitamin produced when your skin is exposed to the sun, and whose levels tend to drop during the winter season.
If you like herbs, medicinal plants like passion flower and oats can help alleviate signs of anxiety. St John’s Wort is another herb with antidepressant properties, but it tends to interact with most medications, so speak with a qualified medical professional if you’re curious about it. High doses of omega-3s have also been studied in mild depression, so they may play a role in helping reduce the severity of SAD.
- Stay warm: Being cold is associated with depression. According to some sources, staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. If your symptoms of SAD are so debilitating and interfering with your normal life, seek medical help. Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food.
- Eat healthily: Your internal clock is connected to the brain’s appetite hardwiring, which explains why you may have more food cravings in winter. A healthy diet can boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you from putting on weight. Balance your craving for sweets and carbs with plenty of fresh vegetables, protein and healthy fats.
- Light therapy: Some people find light therapy to be effective for seasonal depression. One way to get light therapy at home in winter is to sit in front of a light for up to two hours a day.
- Bonus – See your friends and family: It’s been shown that socializing is good for your mental health. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about. Accept any invitations to social events, even if you don’t stay for long; challenge yourself!