The winter season means fewer hours of daylight as well as cold and chilly nights. It can leave even the most optimistic people feeling low and down.
This is a normal phenomenon. In medical terms, it is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or commonly called winter depression or winter blues. It is a type of mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health most of the year experience depressive symptoms at the same time each year, usually in the winter months.
SAD most often occurs in women, adolescents and young adults.
Key symptoms of SAD are depression, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, irritability, feeling down, unsociable, loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed, difficulty concentrating and even having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
It is not possible to ignore the winter months, but there are many ways to lift your spirits and ease the mid-winter doldrums.
Here are the top 10 ways to beat the winter blues and avoid depression.
1. Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is very effective at beating the winter blues. It provides a natural boost to both your mood and physical health.
Besides lifting your mood, regular exercise offers many health benefits including regulating your blood pressure, protecting against heart disease and cancer, and boosting your self-esteem.
A 2009 study published in Biological Rhythm Research reviewed various clinical and physiological evidences and concluded that exercise intervention may facilitate effective treatment for SAD. Particular emphasis is given to circadian mechanisms that have been hypothesized to explain mood-enhancing effects of physical exercise.
Juts a daily walk can help prevent depression. Walking in the middle of the day, when possible, also provides the benefit of light therapy.
Experts recommend walking fast for about 35 minutes five times a week or 60 minutes three times a week to boost your mood. Along with walking, light aerobic exercises and yoga are also especially helpful in improving mood.
2. Enjoy Natural Light
No matter how much you wish to remain indoors in the comfort of your home, it is important to go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days.
Lack of exposure to sunlight is one of the leading causes of seasonal affective disorder. Hence, it is recommended to get outside and enjoy some sunlight.
Sun exposure, especially first thing in the morning, helps increase the level of a natural antidepressant in the brain. In fact, the brain produces more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin on bright and sunny days than on darker days.
During the winter, try to soak up as many rays as you can in a day. Open the blinds, pull the curtains back or walk outside for sometime in direct sunlight.
Even inside your home, try to choose pale colors that reflect light from outside, and sit near windows whenever you can.
3. Use a Light Box
If you live in a place with few windows or poor sun exposure, investing in a light box will be your best bet for preventing and treating depression symptoms.
Light therapy is effective in improving mood by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.
In this type of therapy, your eyes are exposed to intense but safe amounts of light for a specific and regular length of time. Apart from regulating neurotransmitters, light therapy also helps correct any problem with the inner biological clock, called the circadian rhythm. It suppresses your levels of melatonin, the chemical hormone in your body that controls sleep.
For fighting seasonal depression, you need to sit in front of a light box for at least 30 minutes a day first thing in the morning to stimulate your brain and boost your energy.
There are different shapes and sizes of light boxes in the market. You can choose one that will be convenient for your daily use. However, white and blue light boxes are the most effective in beating winter blues.
4. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
Taking a vitamin D supplement is important if you reside in a place where you are not getting enough sunlight, which the body needs to produce vitamin D.
Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin”, plays a key role in improving your mood and preventing depression symptoms. This vitamin aids in the production of serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation and happiness.
A 2010 study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing reports that effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in people with depression may be an easy and cost-effective therapy to improve health as well as their quality of life.
Taking vitamin D supplements after consulting a doctor may lead to improvement in various measures of mood.
Your body can also absorb vitamin D through food. Some good food sources of vitamin D include milk, egg yolks and fish that have bones.
5. Stock Up on Omega-3 Fatty Acids
During the winter season, it’s important to eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have an important role in emotional health.
The two main types of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA play an important role in nerve function and mood regulation. In fact, people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to experience moderate or mild symptoms of depression.
A 2004 study published in Lipids in Health and Disease reports that there is enough epidemiological, laboratory and clinical evidence suggesting the positive role of omega-3 fatty acids in certain cases of depression.
Another study conducted in 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reports that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may influence mood, personality and behavior.
To get enough omega-3 fatty acids, include cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies in your diet.
In addition, you can eat more flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. You can also take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, after consulting your doctor.
6. Keep Warm
To fight an increased level of sadness during the winter months, it is important to stay warm. Cold weather tends to make you feel depressed as feeling cold makes you feel even more down.
To keep warm, enjoy hot beverages and eat warm foods. You can opt for healthy herbal teas instead of your regular coffee as it tends to be dehydrating.
Plus, make sure your home stays cozy, between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius (64 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit).