Winter Blues Survival Guide
Have you started hibernating yet? Many Tennesseans experience a sink in mood during the winter months. We all know the feeling… everything just seems like too much trouble. We feel tired, lethargic…our spirits are low. Yep, we’re singing the “Winter Blues”. And, the blues hit some people harder than others.
Most scientists agree that the Winter Blues are linked to the body’s response to reduced daylight. Simply put, hormonal changes occur in response to the amount of light taken in by our eyes. Specifically, melatonin (the hormone associated with sleep cycles) and serotonin (the “feel good” hormone) levels change because of the reduced light.
Below are some tips to help beat those winter blues. However, if you are feeling deeply depressed you might need to see your doctor.
You don't need a gym membership to workout. You can go for a walk, run or bike ride or try searching for videos on YouTube. If that feels too much then fidget, jiggle your legs. Getting daily physical activity can be a powerful way to improve mood due to the effects of exercise on neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Did you know that exercise can change the structure and function of your brain resulting in better mood, memory and focus that can last for hours after you're done working out? Check out this amazing TED Talk The Brain Changing Benefits of Exercise to learn more.
Try to get a minimum of 20 minutes natural light a day, the more natural light that you can be exposed to the better. Daylight helps your body get its daily dose of vitamin D.
If you can’t get out of the house, open the blinds and let the light shine in. Creating a naturally brighter environment can boost your mood. Try sitting in the window or perhaps invest in a box light. Sitting near a light box for 30-45 minutes per day has been shown to help fight off symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD and is effective in up to 85% of cases.
Being cold can impact upon your mood, it can leave you feeling low. Studies have shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot food and drinks, wear warm clothes and aim to keep your home between 64-70 degrees.
We are all aware of the benefits of a healthy diet and how it can affect not just our energy levels but also our clarity of thought and our mood. So, make sure you are fueling your body with a well-balanced diet as well to get all of your daily vitamins and minerals while stabilizing your blood sugar.
Take Vitamin D
There are vitamin D receptors in a part of our brain called the hypothalamus that controls our hormones and is involved in depression. It's a good idea to check vitamin D levels with a blood test before supplementing with high doses because vitamin D is stored in the body and toxicity can occur if you use it long term. If you don't know your vitamin D levels you can try a daily dose around 2000-4000 IU, which is usually safe for most people.
Try Tryptophan and 5-HTP
These amino acids are building blocks for serotonin and melatonin, however, there are a couple different pathways the body can use for tryptophan. Because there are a few pathways for tryptophan, it can be beneficial to pair it with vitamin B6 and B3 (niacinamide) to increase the likelihood that it produces melatonin and serotonin. 5-HTP may work even better because it can be directly converted to serotonin and then melatonin and can cross the blood brain barrier allowing more to get directly to the brain.
Try St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
This herb has many properties including being an antiviral, anti-inflammatory and a wound healing plant, but one of its most well-known uses is as an anti-depressant in mild to moderate depression and SAD. It works similarly to a drug class of anti-depressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which keeps serotonin around in the neuronal synapses longer so it continues to have positive effects on mood. St. John's Wort also has the same effect on another “feel good” neurotransmitter called dopamine. St. John's Wort works well along with light therapy. This herb can increase your sensitivity to UV light especially in fair skinned individuals. (It also affects the liver's ability to metabolize other drugs so check with your doctor if you're on other medications. Notable drug interactions include coumadin (Warfarin), omeprazole (Prilosec), simvastatin and pravastatin, and oral birth control pills. It also should not be used with other anti-depressants or MAOIs.)
Limit alcohol use
With all the holiday celebrations, you may be more likely to drink alcohol. And although alcohol may initially make you feel good, it ultimately acts as a depressant, increases adrenal stress hormones and disrupts your ability to get restful, deep sleep. It decreases blood sugar, limiting the energy that’s available to your brain and making you crave carbs to get your blood sugar up. All these effects can make feelings of depression worse so it may be best to keep it in moderation or skip alcohol all together during the fall and winter.
Take up a hobby
A lot of people stop doing things that they enjoy over the Winter period; this in itself can trigger feelings of low mood. Instead, have fun and teach yourself to knit or crochet. Practice checkers or chess with friends or family. Put on your favorite music and dance. There are tons of other hobbies to get involved in as well such as painting, playing an instrument, craft making, journaling, model cars, baking, and much more. Having something to focus on can really help, so keep your mind active not just your body.
See your friends and family
This time of year can be stressful and the best stress relief I know is some time out with a friend. Socializing is great overall great for your mental health! A social event with a friend or family member is a great mood booster but if that is difficult to arrange around other commitments, a simple phone call will do.
Don’t forget to surround yourself with people who make you laugh as well. Spend time with people who boost your mood and who you can’t help but feel good around. This can take your mind off of the cold, blustery winter and shift it to warmer, happier thoughts. Laughter also helps in the production and release of endorphins in the brain which are a natural mood booster.
Finally, don’t forget to get sleep
Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Having regular sleep and wake times creates a structure for yourself. Better yet, set you alarm clock for a few minutes earlier so that you can pause and reflect each morning.