Does winter make you or your child feel a bit, well, sad? Yvonne Walus sheds some light on the winter blues, and how you can brighten up your mood.
Mayo Clinic calls the Winter Blues a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and defines it as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons”. People may experience a range of symptoms, such as feeling gloomy or fatigued, being irritable, having difficulty concentrating, struggling to fall asleep, not wanting to socialise, and craving carbohydrates. In some cases, these symptoms last just a few weeks; in others, they continue throughout winter.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Doctors agree that there are multiple triggers. One is reduced exposure to sunlight, both because the days are shorter, and because we venture outside less in winter. This messes with our internal clock, disrupts production of the happiness-boosting hormone serotonin, and may lead to deficiency of vitamin D needed to regulate our mood.
Another trigger may be the isolation caused by the colder weather. If we don’t take part in fun activities and social interactions, we may end up feeling lonely and depressed.
Also, we tend to move less in winter. Yes, partly it’s that we don’t feel like walking in windy wet weather, but even exercising indoors seems less appealing – because let’s face it, who wants to unwrap from all the layers to get into our yoga gear or swimming togs? Unfortunately, reduced physical activity can make our depression worse.
Finally, what we eat in winter also affects our wellbeing. This is the season when fresh produce is less varied and less readily available, leading to a decrease in the consumption of certain important nutrients, particularly vitamin C contained in fresh fruit and vegetables.
HOW TO CONQUER THE SEASONAL SLUMP
1. Get natural light. Spend time outdoors during daylight hours; open curtains to let daylight into your home and workspace. “For winter blues, I recommend daytime sunlight exposure and getting an airing outside – it helps lift the mood and resist the urge to hibernate which can lead to sleep cycle problems with day/night inversion, especially in teenagers,” says a GP at Byron Medical in Takapuna, Auckland.
2. Stay active. Choose physical activities you enjoy, like going for a walk with family or friends, or playing a team sport. Exercise releases endorphins, which help lift your spirits.
3. Eat wholesome food. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), eggs, and dairy products will provide our bodies with the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed to fight the winter blues. It’s important to boost our immune system with foods rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.
4. Resist processed foods. Avoiding junk food (high in unhealthy fats, refined sugars, and empty calories) promotes healthy digestion and ensures that our bodies are adequately nourished to fight off winter ailments. While comfort foods can offer temporary relief, they are often low in nutritional value and can lead to energy crashes and worsen mood swings. There’s one exception: small quantities of antioxidant rich dark chocolate!
5. Stay hydrated. Drink enough water and consider herbal teas or warm beverages to keep hydrated during the winter.
6. Establish a routine. Sticking to a daily schedule can provide a sense of structure and stability during the winter months. Set regular sleep patterns, eat meals at consistent times, and fence off time for activities that bring you joy. Whether it’s reading, listening to music, painting, cooking, or playing an instrument, engaging in hobbies can boost your mood and provide a sense of fulfilment.
7. Socialise. Maintain connections with friends and family, either in person or through video calls. Consider joining clubs, teams or organisations that align with your interests.
8. Get enough sleep. It’s like a magical reset button for our whole system. While we sleep, our bodies repair and rejuvenate, our brains consolidate memories, and our emotional wellbeing gets a boost.
9. Use relaxation techniques. It could be a deep-breathing app, a video of guided meditation, a warm bath, or a massage – do at least one thing a day that helps you unwind and relieve stress.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IF NEEDED!
If your winter blues symptoms persist and impact your daily life, speak to your GP, EAP, or Lifeline.
Winterise your wellness with nutritional superpowers
Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improved mood and brain function. They have anti-inflammatory properties and may help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain.
Vitamin D plays a role in serotonin production, a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation.
B vitamins , particularly vitamins B6, B12, and folate (B9), are involved in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Magnesium has been linked to mood regulation. It helps to relax muscles, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep quality.
Vitamin C plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system and overall health. During winter, when colds and fl u are more common, vitamin C helps enhance the production of white blood cells, which are vital for fi ghting off infections and illnesses. Vitamin C is also needed for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is associated with mood regulation.