As many as 90% of us report a decrease in energy and lower mood in the winter, referred to as the winter blues or winter depression. Some suffer a debilitating depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD which requires intervention from the GP.
However, it has now been shown that the change in light only accounts for about 10% of our gloomy reaction to the darker days. This leaves the other 90% down to our psychological and social changes in reaction to the colder, darker days.
What causes the winter blues?
Research has shown that light affects our mood in the short term. The blue light of the morning sun is uplifting, improving our mood and alertness. The reduction of light in the winter correspondingly leads to us naturally feeling lower in the winter mornings.
It is how we respond to the winter however which gets us down and gives us the winter blues. Firstly, the colder and darker mornings can make us want to stay in bed longer. We often exercise less and also increase our consumption of ‘comfort food’. In the darker evenings we do not want to socialise and stay out, isolating ourselves more. All of these contribute to the winter blues.
Beating the winter blues
Improving your lifestyle through healthier eating, increased exercise, and socialising more will help raise your mood.
1) Get sunlight – for at least 10 to 15 minutes every day, preferably 30 minutes
As well as boosting our mood, sunlight improves sleep and promotes vitamin D production. Getting outside in the morning is best, or in your lunch hour if not.
2) Exercise as much as possible
Exercise lifts our mood by producing endorphins, our feel-good hormones. Aerobic exercise, in particular, also boosts the production and release of Serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in the brain. Running and cycling are great. If you prefer to walk, a 2005 study from Harvard University showed that walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week improved symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
3) Eat foods which boost your serotonin levels
Foods such as poultry, avocados, bananas, cottage cheese, walnuts, soy protein, tomatoes and sunflower seeds all contain Tryptophan, an essential acid precursor of Serotonin. Always eat these in combination with carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and potatoes.
4) Eat foods which contain Vitamin D to boost your mood
Eat oily fish, tofu, eggs and mushrooms. If you are feeling especially low, see your GP who may prescribe Vitamin D (100,000 IU daily for a short period). This has been shown to improve symptoms of depression.
5) Avoid winter cravings
Don’t eat sweet carbohydrates, especially in the evening. Sugar keeps you awake and the resulting lack of sleep will lower your mood. Instead increase your consumption of fruit, vegetables, milk and yoghurt – dairy products contain protein, vitamins A and B12, and calcium – will help to boost your immune system. A breakfast of fibre or protein though is a great start and can prevent mid-morning cravings.
6) Keep warm, but not too warm
Being too cold can make you depressed, so always have a stock of blankets to warm up when you get into bed. However, if you use the heating at night, the temperature may prevent you getting into deep sleep, as we need a cool bedroom for a comfortable night’s sleep. So, make sure you don’t keep the heat on full blast. Consider getting a Dyson Hot and Cool, as it both purifies the air and regulates the temperature with a night dimmer and timer too. (Buy Now)
7) Get a dawn simulator
Dawn simulators are a great way of waking up. Apart from meaning that you are encouraged to keep your mobile phone out of the bedroom they provide a dose of sunlight first thing. Lumie make great ones, and also have a product which includes an SAD light within it called the Lumie Bodyclock Luxe 750D (Buy Now).
8) Stay positive
Write a list of things you are grateful for, and that you feel positive about every morning.
9) Socialise and talk about your feelings
Socialising is proven to be good for mental health. Get out and visit friends you care about and talk about how you are feeling
10) See your GP
Try not let yourself get too low. If you find that the blues are getting too much for you, an early visit to your GP might prevent things getting worse. He could prescribe light therapy which is proven to help winter blues and SAD