Photo by Raychan on Unsplash
Come the dark days of winter, everyone can feel a bit down from time to time. But for some of us, these shorter, colder days bring on depression, social withdrawal, overeating or weight gain. Although some of these symptoms characterize the condition commonly known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), there is more to the “winter blues” than the seasonal variation of light to the pineal gland.
What are the Winter Blues?
Those suffering from the winter blues fall into a depressed mood each year in the fall and continue to feel depressed throughout the winter and into the early spring, when these feelings disappear. The winter blues and its more severe counterpart, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects about four times as many women as men.
The winter blues are primarily caused by unstable melatonin levels, a hormone produced during sleep, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, hunger, and sleep. As the days become shorter and the hours of sunlight decrease, sufferers of the winter blues experience changes in their mood, energy level, and ability to concentrate. Although the winter blues are not as severe as long-term depression, they can change the way a person thinks, reacts, and deals with everyday challenges.
Do you suffer from Winter Blues?
If you experience two or more of these symptoms each year in the autumn or winter you may suffer from the winter blues:
· Increased feelings of lethargy
· Difficulty waking up in the mornings as the days get shorter
· Difficulty concentrating and thinking creatively in comparison to the summer months
· Difficulty performing tasks that normally seem to be easy/enjoyable
· Increased craving for carbohydrate-rich food like chocolate and sodas
However, winter need not be a dreaded time of year, and more than 85% of people with the winter blues can overcome these symptoms with various forms of therapy.
Exercise and its benefits
Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve mood, but also to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Studies pointed out that one hour of aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy skies overhead) had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. Aerobic exercise rids winter blues suffers from feelings of depression because it increases serotonin levels. Briskly walking to work or taking a run outside have all be proven to help suffers of the blues feel better.
What to Eat and Why
Many people who suffer from the winter blues crave junk food and soft drinks as the days get shorter. The reason they want to indulge in high-sugar foods is because carbohydrates are often effective in increasing serotonin levels in the brain. A better strategy for anyone with the winter blues would be to eat larger portions of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, and healthy simple carbohydrates like fruits and fruit juices during meals, and stay away from unhealthy snacks that will cause momentary relief, but ultimately decrease energy.
Go to bed early
If you are suffering from the winter blues, you should try and increase the number of hours you expose yourself to sunlight. Oversleeping will often mean that you are still in bed during the daylight hours. Take a walk outside or lift the curtain in your room as soon as you rise. Also, try to limit sleep to 8-hour periods on a regular schedule. Oversleeping and fluctuation in sleep-wake schedule causes increases in levels of melatonin during sleep, which can contribute to feelings of depression. Set a regular bedtime and wake up at the same time each day. This will give you more energy during the day and reduce feelings of depression.
Acupuncture can make a huge difference in balancing your mood – it’s helpful for everything from depression and anxiety, to apathy and exhaustion. To prevent SAD, it is best to start treatment ahead of winter, with regular rebalancing sessions during those colder months.