If you notice your mood is as bleak and grey as the earth when winter comes along, you may be afflicted with the winter blues – formally known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). No pun intended, it’s a sub-type of depression that begins in the fall and persists during the winter months.
The accepted theory is that it’s got something to do with reduced daylight. The reduction in sunlight from shorter days during winter months confuses your brain and interferes with the normal levels of hormones that regulate mood, namely serotonin. For this reason, people who live in temperate zones and experience dramatic alterations in the amount of sunlight with the changing of the seasons are more susceptible to SAD.
If you’re dreading the inexorable drop in your mood this season, we’re here to help. Below are five tips to beat the winter blues!
1) Bask in the light
Because SAD is linked to a reduction in the amount of sunlight received by the body, one way to relieve it is to trick your body into thinking it’s summer again.
Get as much sunlight as you can by intentionally taking walks outdoors – even winter sunshine is better than none! What’s important is that sunlight triggers the receptors in your eyes that signal the brain to release serotonin. Soaking up sunshine for at least 30 minutes a day can do wonders for painting your winter blues golden!
Since you can’t spend all day outdoors, you can pass the rest of your time at home sitting by a window. For severe SAD, you can also use special light boxes and dawn simulators that replicate natural light, minus the sun’s UV rays. This also stimulates the release of serotonin, and decreases melatonin levels. Light treatment is recognised as proven treatment for SAD.
2) Break out the sweat
Exercise releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone that functions as a natural antidepressant. Many studies have suggested that exercise could possibly be on par with therapy and medication as treatment for mild to moderate depression. In fact, some countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom present exercise as a first-line treatment for depression.
This winter, aim for aerobic exercise – a jog outside, a run on the treadmill indoors, spin class, even ice skating – to shake your body out of its lethargic state. Plus, because exercise also improves serotonin levels, you can boost that further by working out next to an open window or your light box.
3) Back away from the carbs
Comfort foods loaded with carbs are associated with depression and anxiety. While it’s tempting to load up on these foods when holed up at home in the winter months, be warned that this might aggravate SAD. Carbohydrates from refined grains like white rice and refined sugar—apart from making you feel bloated and lethargic—trigger a hormonal response to bring down blood sugar, which has an adverse effect on regulating mood.
Rather than reaching for the sweets, stock up on satiating protein and fibre-dense foods instead. Snack on carrot sticks, berries, and whole grains instead of potato chips and sweets. These foods fill you up faster and keep you feeling full for longer, which reduces snack cravings throughout the day.
On a side note, deficiencies in Vitamin B are associated with mental health problems such as depression and mood disorders, so supplement your diet with multivitamins that include B-complex to help beat the blues this winter.
4) Bail on winter altogether
If lifestyle allows, circumvent the winter blues altogether by literally escaping winter. Plan a getaway somewhere warm and sunny to get that serotonin flowing. Even just three to five days in a destination closer to the equator will do your head good this season.
What’s more? Simply being excited about your trip in the weeks and days leading up to it will lift your mood and allow you to look forward to winter rather than dread it! If you can manage to get vacation time, make sure to spend it actually getting quality rest and relaxation. It’s not just about soaking up the sunshine—taking time off to recharge during the holidays is important for your overall mental health too.
5) Bolster your efforts – with help
Reach out if these self-help methods aren’t working and your symptoms are getting in the way of normal functioning in work, relationships, and daily living. Work with a professional to process and resolve your winter blues. Medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help some people by making serotonin more available, thus giving your mood the boost it needs to return to normal.
Definitely seek help if you’re feeling hopeless or are entertaining thoughts of suicide: call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14 if you need to reach out to someone during a crisis.
Even if your winter blues are seasonal, there may still be value in seeing a psychologist and/or taking prescribed medication. All forms of depression compromise quality of life, and using available resources to seek relief from SAD is a perfectly valid thing to do. Everyone deserves to enjoy life at its fullest, all year round.
Disclaimer: The information within this article is for entertainment and insight only. It does not take into account your individual health circumstances and should not substitute professional advice and/or treatment.