Winter Blues Got You Down? 8 Ways to Naturally Kick Them To The Curb
There is a chill in the air. The leaves have all fall from the tree’s. Suddenly the sun is hiding for more hours of the day than it’s out. Bears are hibernating and you want to too. Welcome to winter!
Although winter in the Northern Hemisphere can be a beautiful time of year of family gatherings, crisp fresh snow and hay rides; it can also cause others to get a case of the winter blues.Maybe you know that feeling? I know personally I am no stranger to the winter blues, and am not ashamed to admit it. But how do you know when it’s the winter blues that’s got you down and not something more?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a form of depression that occurs when there is less sunlight (like in the autumn and winter months) leaving people feeling easily fatigued, moody, isolated, and like they have permeant brain fog. SAD is also something that roughly about 4% of the population (in Canada) is diagnosed with but it is estimated that the actual rates of seasonal affective disorder actually lay closer to the 17% mark.
So why does SAD it happen?
Well there are many reasons as to exactly why SAD happens but the biggest and most common reason is the lack of sunlight and the type of sunlight that we get during the cooler times of the year. The sun is the biggest external regulator of our hormones. It gives us our daily fix of vitamin D. It helps to lower cortisol levels. It helps regulate our circadian rhythm (or sleep, wake cycle). It helps to produce serotonin and dopamine (feel good neurotransmitters) in the body. And there are even some studies that link it to internal hunger signals!
Signs and symptoms of SAD
So just because you feel a little blue in the winter does not actually mean that you have SAD. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of SAD:
Cravings for foods heavy in starchy carbohydrates
Rapid weight gain/loss
Low energy accompanied by feelings of anxiety
Rapid mood changes
Constant brain fog/Low cognitive functioning
Having the above signs/symptoms in the cooler months with a dramatic decrease (or disappearance) for a 2 (or more) consecutive year span
While it is suggested by medical doctors to go on an antidepressant if you have a diagnosis of SAD you do have some natural ways that you can lessen your signs and symptoms and help kick the winter blues in the butt!
Keep Moving. Even though the weather is getting chillier and you just want to curl up by the fire for the night under a blanket making sure you are still moving your body daily is still super important. Moving your body and getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day will help to boost your serotonin levels, a feel good neurotransmitter, and give you a little mood boost! Along with boosting your mood, moving your body will also help boost your immune system which we all need a little more of in the cooler weather. Some of my favourite cooler weather activities to get my heart rate up are; hot yoga classes, bundled up nature walks, sweaty gym sessions, and dancing around in my living room!
Don’t JUST Eat Comfort Foods. Ok so I feel like I am he queen of comfort foods. BUT here is the thing most traditional comfort foods are full of starchy carbs and sugar which actually not only slow down the digestive system leaving you feeling bloated and heavy but they also f@ck with our blood sugar which creates low energy and mood…..Basically all the things we don’t want when we are already dealing with the winter blues! So making sure that you are still eating some fresh, nutrient dense foods is a must! Now this does not mean that you need to eat salads and smoothies all day long. Instead try switching out your dense, creamy soups or light broth ones filled with veggies, OR try switching your morning oat bowl to a “not”meal bowl made with squash instead!
Supplements! Supplementing in the winter can truly be life changing, especially if you are dealing with SAD. As soon as September hits I usually recommend ALL of my clients start taking at least 4000 IU’s of liquid vitamin D daily, as we are not receiving any substantial vitamin D from the sun from September to April even on the sunniest of days! But SAD is closely linked with a deficiency in vitamin D and so supplementing with it can really do wonders for your mental state during the winter months. Along with vitamin D supplementation most people find that taking vitamin B 12 and zinc/magnesium also do wonders for their mood, energy levels, and mental clarity during the winter months.
Investing in a Lightbox. This is a tip that I put off for a long time BUT HOLY HECK when I finally gave in and did it was it ever worth it! Now these boxes truly are an investment, BUT are also a game changer. The Lightbox is something that you can set up anywhere you have a plug in in your house and easily get a good daily does of vitamin D naturally, and it totally feels like the sun is beaming down on you! I have mine set up in front of my computer so when I am working away I not only feel like I am somewhere sunny BUT I am also getting some vitamin D at the same time! I got mine off of Amazon but I have also seen some health food stores carry them as well.
Socialize. So often as soon as the cooler weather sets in we start staying in more and going out to meet up with friends and family less. Now there is actually a few problems with this….1) We are actually social animals that are meant to gather (yes this is true even if you are an introvert)! 2) There is a positive correlation between socialization and serotonin, dopamine levels. Basically put when we socialize with those that we love and care for we get a big dump of both serotonin and dopamine which make us feel less blue! Try getting together with a friend (or group pf friends) once a week to either host a dinner party, share a meal, play some car/board games, go for a walk, or just chat over a hot beverage! It doesn’t matter what the activity is just make sure that it is something you can do while chatting and connecting with those around you.
Get Outside. I know, I know…It’s cold, wet, snowy and blizzarding outside BUT getting out and connecting with the world around us is super important when it comes to mental wellbeing and can really help to kick the winter blues in the butt! I suggest trying to get outside (more than just walking to your car) for at least 15 solid minutes a day to help boost your mood and energy. A bonus to getting outside regularly is that it will help to regulate your circadian rhythm and help regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Try going for a bundled up walk around your block, grabbing a shovel and shovelling snow, doing some sprints, doing yard work, or going for a bike ride (if weather permits). BUT I know from personal experience this can truly be hard somedays. Somedays you are chilled right to the bone while sitting inside and so the thought of going outside where it is colder is excruciating! On days like this try opening up any and all of the curtains and binds you have in your home and just sitting by the window for a few minutes (under a blanket if needed) taking in the beauty of the outside world.
Eat Tryptophan Rich Foods. Now I know we already covered a bit about eating but…..Eating and incorporating foods in to your diet that are rich in tryptophan can help lessen your depression and regulate hormones. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to some of our feel good neurotransmitters AS WELL AS to melatonin (a sleep/relaxation neurotransmitter). So having more tryptophan in your diet will help to boost your mood and help with your sleep! Some great food sources of tryptophan are; cashews, turkey, bananas, oats, and chia seeds!
Talk to a Professional. Now if you have been a long time reader you know that this is something I truly recommend for MOST health and healing journeys. BUT when it comes to mental health especially talking to a professional like a counsellor, life coach, or therapist can help you feel like you aren’t alone and help make sure you are on the right path and something bigger isn’t going on. If you feel like talking to a professional is out of your budget OR it makes you a little nervous just know that you do have options. Most cities have free support groups for those suffering with all kinds of mental health challenges (even SAD), and there are tons of online professionals that you can Skype with that are often cheaper! I also recommend looking into your health benefits/coverage from your work/province as most have some sort of coverage for these types of health services.
Disclaimer note: Although the methods and recommendations in this article have been researched and have worked for many of my clients it is important that if you think you are suffering from SAD that you talk to your health professional or a counsellor . These recommendations are NOT to take the place of any treatment plan that you have discussed or been placed on by your health care professional. If you have any thoughts of self harm or suicidal thoughts please contact a health care professional immediately.