How to get through the Winter Blues

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There’s a natural rhythm to the year that sees many people being full of energy and happiness during summertime but dropping and suffering from almost depression-like symptoms in the winter. Commonly known as the Winter Blues, and quite often laughed off by those who have never experienced it, there’s actually scientific evidence that this condition exists.

The Winter Blues can make you SAD

It’s easy to see why anybody could be affected by the Winter Blues even without science. The weather is colder, the days are shorter, and people tend to stay locked up indoors rather than going for a walk in the park.

The cold and dark could make you miserable, and the lack of social interaction by being indoors could cause mental health issues if taken to the extreme.

Scientifically, it’s almost the same story. Every day your body produces the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate the amount of sleep you get. Contact with light slows and stops the production of melatonin and causes the body to wake up.

The shorter days can lead to more melatonin being present in the body, with symptoms including lethargy and tiredness. Additionally, the body will find it harder to produce vitamin D as there is less chance to be exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D helps to keep teeth, bones, and muscles (including the heart) healthy. A lack of vitamin D can cause problems including rickets and osteomalacia, which is pain in the bones. There’s no wonder that some people don’t like winter! (1)

The term used to describe these symptoms in medical circles is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short.

Here are a few tips to help you fight against SADness.

Look for the Light

There are several ways to combat the effects of SAD. The simplest is to get as much light into your life as you can.

This can range from making a concerted effort every day to go outside and walk around, to light therapy as prescribed by a doctor. Light therapy usually involves the patient sitting facing a lightbox, which helps the brain to realise it is daytime and that melatonin production should stop. (2)

You may also find it helpful to purchase an alarm clock that includes a sunrise simulation light. It’s difficult to wake up on dark mornings and being jolted awake by a loud noise while your body is still trying to sleep is not the best way to start your day. With this kind of alarm clock, a gentle light illuminates a short while before you wish to arise, and gradually gets brighter, sometimes mimicking the colours of the early morning sun. 

This triggers the response in your body to stop melatonin production, allowing you to wake naturally even on the darkest days. In the evening, the reverse process can also occur, with the clock gradually dimming the light, allowing you to drift off as if the sun were setting.

Feel the Love

Of course, there’s nothing better than real sunshine to help lift your mood and increase the production of vitamin D, so when the sun is out – get out there with it!

While you are out and about, say hello to people. Smile at those you meet. If you find a friend, stop and chat. Chatting with someone is a good way to boost your mental wellbeing, which will help to stave off the Winter Blues. (3)

Exercise, even just taking a walk, has been shown to reduce the risk of any kind of depression by up to 31%, so it’s well worth doing at all times of the year. (4)

It may be a good idea to purposefully meet up with friends in the evening, as it helps you escape from being locked in your home in the dark. However, if you can’t motivate yourself to be sociable in the evening, make sure you have human contact during the day.

Your mind will thank you for it. 

Eat the Lunch

Eating well is one of the biggest issues that many people face in winter. Traditionally, it was never a good time for fresh fruit and the like, but that problem is negated in modern times due to worldwide imports.

However, what you may be tempted to do is eat lots of food that is bad for you – Christmas is a time when many treats are available, and it might be considered rude not to partake! But treats are meant to be eaten in moderation, so try not to overindulge.

More importantly, eating the right foods can boost your vitamin D levels. Foods such as oily fish, cheese, egg yolks, and spinach are all high in vitamin D, so make sure your diet includes them. (5)

Be careful with vitamin D supplements, as you can take too much vitamin D which can cause as many problems as not having enough. Obtaining vitamin D through sunlight and diet is the safest way to boost your levels.

In summary

Light, Love, and Lunch, are the most effective ways to fight the Winter Blues. By taking care of your body and giving it everything it needs, you stand the best chance of getting through winter with a smile on your face.

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References

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/

  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/light-therapy/about/pac-20384604

  3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201510/face-face-social-contact-reduces-risk-depression

  4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2018/04/24/exercising-20-minutes-a-day-cuts-risk-developing-depression/ 

  5. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/calcium-vitamin-d-foods