Got the winter blues?
You’re not alone. It’s estimated that around 40 million North Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depression in the winter months when the days are shorter, darker, and rainier.
Symptoms include: fatigue, oversleeping, overeating, carbohydrate cravings, mild depression, irritation, and loss of pleasure and interest in life.
The good news is that there are many simple and effective ways to ease symptoms of SAD. I’ve compiled my top recommendations on how to boost your mood and return to feeling like yourself again:
1. Light Therapy
Light therapy is one of the easiest, non-invasive, and natural ways to treat SAD. Special light boxes that provide 10,000 lux are used to simulate sunlight exposure. The daily goal is 30 - 60 minutes of direct facial exposure in the morning, as this has the added bonus of resetting the circadian rhythm and stopping daytime melatonin (what makes you drowsy) secretion.
2. Get Moving
Access your body’s natural medicine cabinet with physical activity. Exercise increases the body's production of endorphins, your ‘feel-good’ hormones.
To keep motivated, try finding an exercise buddy to hold you accountable, and make it fun!
3. Feel-Good Supplements
I recommend incorporating a few supplements to ensure that your body is getting the necessary vitamins and minerals to function optimally and combat the winter blues.
- Vitamin D - Research supports a connection between low vitamin D levels and SAD. Due to a lack of sun exposure in winter months, many Canadians are low in Vitamin D.
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) - When taken orally 5-HTP may help to increase serotonin (the Happy Hormone) levels in the brain to alleviate many SAD symptoms.
- B vitamins - Effective in helping maintain adequate serotonin levels, I recommend finding a B-complex supplement that contains all the essential B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, folic acid, and pantothenic acid (B5).
4. Watch That Sweet Tooth
Bingeing on carbohydrates can aggravate feelings of depression by altering blood sugar levels. Try eating smaller and more frequent meals to regulate blood sugar, and incorporate healthy protein sources such as organic free-range meats, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Rather than eating simple carbohydrates like white flours and refined sugars, choose complex carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grains, and vegetables as they contain more fibre and digest slower.
5. Make Time For Yourself
Often we are the last person on our priority list, however, it’s crucial to take time for ourselves when looking after our mental health.
Make it a goal to take a few minutes for yourself every day, whether that’s starting your morning with reading a book in bed, taking a walk on your lunch break, talking to a friend that makes you laugh, or exercising your creativity with an artistic hobby you love. Making your relationship with yourself more important will impact your overall sense of well-being, reduce stress, and improve your mood.
6. Learn to “Hack” Your Happiness Hormones
Dopamine is a “pleasure” hormone and is stimulated when we strive towards a goal, so it is sometimes nicknamed the “reward chemical”. It motivates us to take action to achieve a goal so we can experience the pleasure of the reward.
How to Hack it:
- Complete a task like organizing your junk drawer. Set monthly or daily goals. Celebrate the little wins – finish a book, grow a strawberry or a tomato plant.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller. They are released when the body is in pain or under stress, and also in response to activities like exercise, eating, and sex.
How to Hack it:
- Essential oils in the bath. Dark chocolate. Exercise – especially anaerobic exercise.
Serotonin boosts our mood and encourages sociability – when it’s decreased it can cause irritability, depression, and low mood.
How to Hack it:
- Find 5 mins daily to meditate. Walking in nature or forest bathing. Eat foods high in tryptophan like turkey, or pumpkin and sesame seeds
Oxytocin is the “love” or “cuddle” hormone typically released upon physical touch. This has been especially difficult in times of isolation during these difficult times.
How to Hack it:
- Play with a pet. Get a massage – or give yourself a massage. Hold hands with a loved one. Give a compliment.
Remember at the end of the day, that we are seasonal here in the winter hemisphere. It’s okay to slow down a bit and shift your priorities this time of year. Focus on what brings you joy each day, and find something to carry you through the winter. Most of all, remember that you’re not alone.