How to Fight the Winter Blues
Updated: May 13, 2019
Do you struggle with feeling down every winter when it becomes dark and cold?
You may have something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, and you aren’t alone.
Around 10-20% of Americans experience this every winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that typically affects people who live in cold, dark winter places, far from the equator. Similar to depression, SAD may include symptoms such as feeling less social, feeling less optimistic, low energy, loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy, changes to your sleep, appetite and libido, and increased irritability.
Leading theories on the causes of SAD involve two major changes in the body. First, there is a disruption to the body’s internal clock, or Circadian rhythm, when we are exposed to less sunlight. Second, come wintertime, people with SAD experience a significant drop in serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, sleep, memory and libido. With less sunlight, we also tend to produce less vitamin D, a critical vitamin needed for the synthesis of serotonin in the body.
The conventional treatments for SAD include light therapy, talk therapy, and anti-depressant medications, which may or may not work for everyone. Many people find that the side effects from the medications are often worse than actually feeling depressed.
However, natural medicine is well equipped to handle the winter blues. If you know that you get less joyous in the winter months, here are some preventative strategies you can use to stay ahead of SAD:
1. Get outside everyday! This may sound silly, especially since it is cold and dark out, but natural light (even if it is not bright) will help your body adjust better than being inside in artificial light. For best results, get outside within 1-2 hours of the sun rising.
2. Stay active! An essential recommendation for anyone who is depressed. Exercise boosts levels of natural neurotransmitters that make you feel happy, it helps relieve stress, and helps improve overall physical health.
3. Develop wintertime interests! If you find yourself losing interest in activities you normally enjoy, try taking up a mood-enhancing activity that is fun to do in the winter. Strap on some snowshoes, pick up some ice skates for a spin on the rink, or become a gourmet chef- you might find yourself with a new passion.
4. Flip a switch! Research has found that up to 50% of people with SAD benefit from light therapy. Many people like having light boxes (or ‘Happy Lights’) in their homes or at the office for some extra brightness to emulate the sun. Also, try a sunrise alarm clock, which slowly brightens in the morning to mimic the sunrise, and helps you wake up feeling more relaxed and less groggy.
5. Take supplements! Vitamin D, fish oil, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, B-vitamins, and homeopathic medicines are all natural remedies that may be able to help you sail through the winter months with ease. Talk to your doctor about what supplements might be right for you before starting anything on your own.
If you or someone you love is noticing significant distress or problems functioning in everyday activities, like performing at work and maintaining healthy relationships, it may be time to consult a professional for an evaluation.
Written by Dr. Jenna Biollo