The winter blues are pretty common, especially for those who live in colder and darker parts of the world during the winter months. The days get shorter and sunshine is limited, resulting in an overall lack of motivation, fatigue, sadness, and withdrawal. It’s extremely important to notice signs of increased sadness during the winter and prioritize self-care. Winter blues can lead to SAD (seasonal affective disorder) so it’s essential to know the difference between the two and how to manage symptoms of both.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression. As the name states, this depression is usually brought upon by seasonal changes. SAD usually begins in the late fall/early winter and can continue into the spring. According to Boston University, around 5% of the American population experiences seasonal depression in any given year. Around 10-20% of the population experiences milder forms of SAD. This mental illness can more likely affect you based on your geographical location. Some states actually get less than 5 hours of sunlight every day during the winter months!
Your age and gender can also play a role in seasonal affective disorder. It’s actually four times more common to feel symptoms of seasonal depression as a woman compared to men. The onset of this condition usually begins in late teens and mostly affects young adults.
Some of the most common symptoms of SAD include:
- Feeling down or sad on a daily basis
- Low energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes
It’s very important to take notice of these symptoms and speak to your doctor or someone you trust. It’s normal to feel sad or down once in a while, but if any of these symptoms persist during the winter season you should consult with a professional for proper treatment.
Some other factors that could put you at risk for seasonal affective disorder include:
- Decreased serotonin levels, which is the hormone that regulates our mood. This can be the result of the lack of sunlight.
- Overproduction of melatonin, this is the hormone that is responsible for our sleep and may leave us feeling more drowsy throughout the day.
- Vitamin D deficiency
What are the winter blues?
Have you noticed that getting out of bed is a lot harder for you to do during the months of December to March? Do you lack motivation to work out and do other activities you’d normally have energy for? Are you drawn to comfort foods more than usual? These are all common signs of dealing with the winter blues.
The winter blues are much milder than seasonal affective disorder and oftentimes symptoms can be managed without professional help. It’s a given that many of us will experience a change in our energy if we live in a colder climate during the winter months. The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve the winter blues, here are just a few:
Use supplements: When it comes to the wintertime, many of us can see a lot less sun than we would like to. In parts of the world where sunshine is limited, Vitamin D deficiency is quite common. Sunshine has many health benefits, and one of the most important is helping to assist in the production of vitamin D within our bodies. The good news is that we have the ability to supplement with Vitamin D3, which is especially important if your levels are low. A lack of vitamin D can actually affect your mood and lead to depression.
We highly recommend taking a high-quality Vitamin D supplement during the darker winter months, and at NutraChamps we have two different kinds!
Eat more fruits and vegetables: The foods you eat on a daily basis have a direct correlation with the way that you feel. Although it can be tempting to eat lots of comfort foods and junk food during the winter months, (which is fine in moderation) we definitely recommend upping your fruits and vegetables! Eating more fruits and vegetables will not only give you the vitamins and nutrients you need to feel your best, but it will also boost your immune system. Depending on where you’re located in the world it might be difficult to have access to fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. The good news is that frozen fruits and veg are also nutritious and delicious! One of our favorite ways of getting in more fruits and vegetables is by making a morning smoothie. Add your favorite milk or water, frozen berries, a scoop or protein or greens, and some nut or seed butter and blend! You’ll feel full, satiated, and satisfied.
Expose yourself to light: Natural sunlight can be sparse during the months of December-February which definitely takes a toll. If you can, try to expose yourself to other forms of light as much as possible. Keeping yourself in the dark (literally) but closing the blinds or dimming the lights may only make your symptoms of winter blues and SAD worse. If you can, try working next to an open window, use some bright lights that mimic sunlight at home, or you can even try using a light therapy lamp! Here are some great and affordable options.
Move your body: Movement and exercise are extremely beneficial to our health for a number of reasons, one of them being that it boosts serotonin, endorphins, and other great feel-good chemicals. Since serotonin can take a dip when you have depression, one of the best things you can do for your mental health is break a sweat. Not only will you feel better, you’ll also sleep better! Try aiming for 20-30 minutes of movement per day and watch the difference it can make.
Get outside: You might be thinking, “why on earth would I want to go outside during the winter if I have the winter blues?” Well, it’s because getting outside and into nature has so many positive benefits! If you can take the time to bundle up and go to your local forest, pond, or trail for a short walk to disconnect, it will make a big difference in your mental health. Oftentimes, we can become sad or depressed because we are disconnected from our bodies. There’s nothing like getting into nature that will help you to feel more present and more at peace.
If you’re feeling down and hopeless, just know you’re not alone. It’s far too common that we end up isolating when we’re not feeling our best because we don’t want to burden others. Truth is, we need people and our loved one’s more than ever when we’re in a dark place. If you are feeling symptoms of winter blues or seasonal affective disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call a friend, visit your doctor, or reach out to a therapist. Remind yourself that you deserve to feel good, even in the winter months. This too will pass!