By: Emily Buechler, B.S. Health Promotion and Wellness, Lifestyle Consultant
It’s that time of year when the days are shorter, the temperature gets colder, and there is a lack of sunshine. Do you find yourself losing energy, feeling unmotivated, experiencing mood changes, or an overall sense of the winter blues? If so, you are not alone!
It may not seem like the shorter days would have a significant effect on your mental well-being but with reduced levels of sunlight your body’s circadian rhythm (your natural sleep cycle) is disrupted. We all know that sleep is extremely important to our overall health and well-being. The levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, important to regulating mood, are affected as well. The reduced amount of sunlight exposure decreases the serotonin levels in your brain, which is a chemical associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calmer and more focused. Less sunlight also prompts your body to produce more melatonin than usual. Increased levels of melatonin can affect your mood by making you feel more tired, irritated and sluggish. These negative feelings are commonly referred to as “the winter blues.” Some people even experience actual seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can include depression, during the season of dark days and colder weather.
Although there are many ways our body is affected by the change of the season, there are many options to alleviate the winter blues! Here are some tips on how to avoid winter depression and how to beat the winter blues:
Eat a Healthy Diet.
When we feel down, we tend to crave foods that are high in fat, carbohydrates and sugar. These types of food will spike your blood sugar to help you feel energized but then it will drop, causing feelings of low energy and moodiness can intensify. These foods can also cause uncomfortable bloating due to their inflammatory tendencies. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables contain minerals such as chromium, iodine, iron, selenium, magnesium, and zinc which are especially important in the synthesis and production of neurotransmitters that regulate our mood. You can find these minerals in dark leafy greens, spinach, root vegetables, broccoli, sea vegetables, mushrooms, berries, avocados, and most fruit (Cote-Bergevin 2018). Ensuring that you get plenty of these healthy minerals in your diet will have you on your way to beating pesky winter depression.
Let the Light In!
One of the most important tips on how to beat the winter blues is to get as much sunlight as possible. Since lack of sunlight is one of the main causes of winter depression, make sure you are still going outside. Bundle up and get into the sun as often as you can! Since the days are shorter and you may start and finish work when it is dark out, try going outside for a few minutes on your lunch break and take advantage of the weekends. If being outdoors is too much of a challenge, you can try an artificial sunlight box. Artificial sunlight boxes are designed with special lighting tubes that mimic the benefits of sun exposure.
Get Regular Physical Activity.
Beating winter depression is tough, but getting your body moving is an effective (and fun!) way to ward off negative feelings. Physical activity releases endorphins, “feel good hormones” which help decrease symptoms of depression and reduce stress. If you are not doing any type of physical activity, start slowly and build up to more days for longer periods of time. You can even increase time in smaller increments: instead of doing a 30-minute session you do three 10-minute sessions. The point is just to get moving!
Be Sure to Socialize.
Socializing can provide several benefits to your physical and mental health. Interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. Individuals who report feeling more socially connected have higher survival rates and lower risk for a variety of diseases (Leschak, Eisenberger 2020). Lastly, there is recent evidence that has shown social interaction is great for your brain health! People who connect with others generally perform better on cognitive skills and memory tests.
Practice Relaxation Techniques.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to beat the winter blues. Mindfulness is a state of being aware. It is in-the-moment engaged awareness – not a passive state. Using mindfulness strategies such as meditation, breathing exercises or yoga can help you cultivate a feeling of calm and center your mind.
Get More Tips on How to Beat the Winter Blues with Livea
While you can’t change the temperature or how often the sun comes out, you can make choices to help minimize the effects of the winter blues. If lifestyle changes like the ones we just listed are not enough to beat the winter blues, seek out the support of loved ones or make an appointment with a mental health expert. Always know that your Livea team is here to support you through it all!
Troyer, Angela. “The Health Benefits of Socializing | Psychology Today.” The Health Benefits of Socializing, https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/living-mild-cognitive-impairment/201606/the-health-benefits-socializing.
MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Brittany Cordeiro. “Winter Blues? 6 Ways to Improve Mood and Energy.” MD Anderson Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, 2 Dec. 2013, https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/fight-winter-depression.h10-1589046.html.
Cote-Bergevin, Caroline. “5 Tweaks You Can Make to Your Diet to Help Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.” One Green Planet, One Green Planet, 21 Mar. 2018, https://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/diet-tweaks-help-combat-seasonal-affective-disorder/.
Leschak, Carrianne J, and Naomi I Eisenberger. “Two Distinct Immune Pathways Linking Social Relationships with Health: Inflammatory and Antiviral Processes.” Psychosomatic Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7025456/.