CAUSES & CURES: BEATING WINTER BLUES
Wouldn’t it be lovely to start the New Year feeling energized and ready to take on the world? Unfortunately that’s not the case for most people. Even children get winter blues and while there is no medical consensus as to what causes this, there are theories and proven effective ways to deal with it. While nutrition is one of many factors involved we thought the topic timely and important enough to tackle.
Abnormal Neurotransmitter Levels: The theory is that a lack of sunlight affects the workings of the hypothalamus which, in turn, affects the formation of neurotransmitters, chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other. People experiencing winter depression typically have low levels of serotonin (the happiness molecule), and high levels of melatonin (the need to sleep molecule).
They also tend to have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Both of these neurotransmitters are essential for making you feel motivated, energetic, and interested in life.
Circadian Rhythm Dysfunction: One study that followed patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), an extreme form of winter blues, concluded that this disorder is similar to jet lag. It’s thought that people with SAD release melatonin too early or for too long a period during the winter, contributing to their lethargy.
Vitamin D Deficiency: For much of North America and Europe, the UV index reaching 3 or above only happens during the summer months which may explain why an estimated 77% of Americans have subpar levels of vitamin D. This deficiency may be responsible for the depression and anxiety some people experience during the winter months. The only way to know how low your vitamin D level is and how much vitamin D you need to get it back to normal is to get your vitamin D level tested.
Genetics: It’s thought that there is a genetic component to seasonal blues since it often runs in families, especially those with a history of depression or substance abuse. Interestingly, some researchers believe that winter depression might be a survival mechanism that helped our ancestors survive harsh winters. Just as bears, chipmunks, and hedgehogs hibernate in the winter, it’s possible that some of us have an inherent tendency to semi-hibernate during the darkest months to conserve energy.
Post-Holiday Depression: There’s a subcategory of winter blues known as post-holiday depression. For some the holidays are fraught with pitfalls that can leave one feeling down: eating badly, drinking too much, sleeping too little, and neglecting normal exercise.. Both financial and unresolved family issues can worsen this.
Don’t be this guy
How to Beat Winter Blues
Thankfully, winter blues usually subside on its own with the warmer, brighter days of spring, but there’s no reason to wait until then to feel better. These proven remedies can have you feeling happier and more energetic.
1. Eat a Serotonin-Boosting Diet. If you’ve got winter blues, you may find yourself craving and eating more sugar and refined carbohydrates than usual. A healthy diet should emphasize vegetables, fruit, lean protein sources, and healthy fats, but you don’t have to completely give up eating carbohydrates. In fact, there’s one dietary “trick” that raises levels of mood-boosting serotonin — consuming carbohydrates on their own, separate from protein.
2. Take the Right Supplements:
FISH OIL may be the #1 supplement for treating winter depression. Iceland is one of the northernmost countries in the world, yet has one of the lowest rates of a serious form of seasonal depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The secret is believed to be their huge consumption of fish — 225 pounds per person per year! That would be a challenge for the rest of us, so taking a high quality fish oil supplement is recommended.
VITAMIN D When healthy adults with winter blues were given 10 to 20 mcg (400 to 800 IU) of vitamin D, their mood improved considerably.
TRYPTOPHAN is an amino acid that’s the precursor of happiness-boosting serotonin. Research has found tryptophan to be as effective for depression as antidepressant drugs. It is most effective when used with LIGHT THERAPY.
ST. JOHN’S WORT is specifically helpful for winter blues, but should be used with caution as it has many side effects and interactions.
3. Practice Meditation – this ancient practice has been proven to help.
4. Get Cozy. Scandinavians don’t look at winter as something to be endured. They embrace it, and one of the ways they do this is by getting cozy. The Danish call it hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). It is a time to slow down and enjoy being at home, reflecting, and spending quality time with friends and loved ones. It’s simply a matter of changing your mindset to embrace, rather than resist, winter.
5. Get Some Physical Exercise. Don’t take the idea of spending time curled up in front of the fire too far. It’s important to stay physically active. Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to stay happy all year long as it releases all the good brain chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins. If exercise outdoors is not possible, exercise indoors with your yoga mat or treadmill near a nearby window to get more daylight, if you can.
6. Plan Something to Look Forward To. If you’ve always wanted to try a particular hobby, now is an excellent time to get started. It turns out that purposeful activities like knitting, sewing, woodworking, arts and crafts, and home repairs can focus your mind, thereby improving mental well-being. One study found that over 80% of knitters with depression reported feeling happier when they knitted due to an increase in their dopamine levels.
The heart of winter is also an excellent time to build anticipation by making long-range plans like next year’s summer vacation. Oddly, it’s been found that people who travel actually get a greater boost of happiness from the anticipation of the trip than from the trip itself. So even if you have to delay your trip, you’ll still get a happiness boost now just thinking about it.
One great way our Market vendors build anticipation is by poring through gardening catalogs planning your spring garden strategy.
7. Cross an Item Off Your “To-Do” List. Even a task as small as clearing out your junk drawer can increase your dopamine levels. Low dopamine is linked to apathy, boredom, and general lack of zest for life.
Next week we’ll share some more coping strategies.