Whether you call it “winter blues” or what doctors refer to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), feelings associated with depression that arrive with the colder, longer, grayer days of winter are not so uncommon. In fact, they are very real and there are estimates that up to 20 percent of the population suffer from some version of the disorder, ranging from mild blues to extreme depression—which in the most severe cases may require hospitalization.
According to recent research from the Mayo Clinic, the culprit in this “down in the dumps” dilemma is a lack of sunlight. In addition to insufficient light, an increase of the hormone melatonin may also play a part in the onset of winter blues. Whatever the root of the disorder, the symptoms are fairly consistent and include weight gain, changes in sleep patterns, carbohydrate cravings, irritability and lack of energy.
Although you can’t exactly chase the gray clouds of winter away, there are ways to alleviate this seasonal disruption to your mental wellness.
If you or someone you know is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, consider following these five recommendations for a happier, brighter winter season:
Increase Your Exposure to Natural Light
Your first line of defense is natural light. Every morning when you wake up, open the curtains, get outside--whatever it takes to spend a few minutes in the daylight. If you’re not able to get outside and walk, the next best thing is to sit by a window to do your work, read a book or eat your mid-day meal. People dealing with more serious cases of SAD may want to consider investing in a light therapy system.
Maintain a Well-Balanced Diet
A well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals is a crucial part of your daily protocol. According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D may play a key role in mental health and depression—that’s why foods naturally rich in vitamin D like salmon, milk, eggs, beef liver and mushrooms are a must during the winter. If those don’t sound appetizing, there are other ways to get your daily dose. Sunlight is always the best source, but if you can’t soak up enough of that during the shorter days, supplements can be a good alternative. The standard recommendation of vitamin D for adults is about 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, but please consult your physician regarding your specific needs before beginning a supplement regimen.
Try Supplementation with B Vitamins
Symptoms of SAD can include lethargy, anxiety, change in appetite and general depression—symptoms also linked with a deficiency of vitamin B. Intake of B vitamins has been linked to a decrease in mood swings and stress, and increased overall emotional wellbeing. The proper dose of B vitamins does vary from person to person, so consulting with your physician is recommended. In addition to B vitamins, natural mineral supplements should also be included in your battle of the blues program. Iron, selenium and magnesium are three important minerals to look for in your essential mineral supplement, since these three specifically help alleviate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and constant mood changes.
Natural herbs are also an integral part of the beat-the-blues regimen. According to a systematic review published in Science Daily, St. John’s wort can be effective in alleviating symptoms of depression. Other herbs such as milk thistle, rose and lavender also top the list of natural depression fighters and may help elevate your mood and enhance relaxation.
Get Your Exercise
Exercise can make a huge difference in your mood and sense of wellbeing. Although the exact link isn’t entirely clear, regular workout sessions have been shown to help ease depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, oxygenating your body with regular moderate exercise helps release feel-good chemicals and provides numerous positive psychological effects. As part of your anti-blues plan, get outside and take a brisk walk whenever possible. Yoga is also an ideal exercise program because of its meditative, holistic approach towards breathing, stretching and relaxation.