7 Tips to beat the winter blues

7 Tips to beat the winter blues

Long, dark nights that thread into endless days of cold, grey skies can lead anyone to the winter of discontent. Winter months can make one feel sad, fatigued, and unmotivated to get out of bed or go outside. Fortunately, these feelings are temporary!

So, as we wait patiently for the days to lengthen and for the sun to warm our place on this earth, here are seven ways to pick up your mood this winter:

1. Spend time in the sun: We need sunlight for Vitamin D synthesis. When it comes to mood and emotion, vitamin D influences two important aspects – serotonin metabolism, and circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) maintenance. Vitamin D activates genes that release neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Serotonin, often called the “feel good” chemical, regulate your mood. Normal serotonin levels will make you feel emotionally stable, happier and calmer, while lower levels are associated with depressive symptoms.

2. Regulate your sleep-wake cycle: It could seem that winter makes you feel more tired and the cold weather takes you to bed earlier than normal. And if you sleep earlier, you could be waking up too early! The length of our sleep is mainly affected by the circadian rhythm, which in turn is affected by the melatonin level regulated by light exposure. Sun exposure, therefore, plays a crucial role in determining our sleep times. You can start regulating your sleep by viewing sunlight within 30-60 minutes of waking, and again in the late afternoon, prior to sunset. You should also wake up at the same time each day and go to bed when you first feel sleepy in the evening.

3. Move…off the couch: Regular, light to moderate exercise is associated with a more positive mood and a reduction in negative thoughts. This is because, when you exercise, the body releases endorphins, endocannabinoids, and dopamine all positively affecting your moods and emotions.

4. Add fermented foods and probiotics to your diet: The gut bacteria in your gut microbiome manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and gastro-intestinal (GI) activity.

5. Consider supplementing with the following:

Vitamin D: In winter, our vitamin D stores can be depleted with the shorter daylight hours and the fact that we’re indoors most of the time.

Magnesium: Vitamin D needs magnesium in order to be activated. Even if you are supplementing with Vitamin D, if your magnesium levels are low, vitamin D is stored and inactive, until magnesium levels are reached. Magnesium also plays a role in serotonin production. Insufficient levels can exacerbate those ‘winter blues’ and may even lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)*

6. Connect with friends and family: A healthy social support system is important to feeling positive. Having a good laugh with friends and or going for a long walk with a loved one can help boost your mood.

7. Go forest bathing: As long as it’s not raining, go forest bathing. “Shinrinyoku” or forest bathing in Japanese, is a short trip to a forest, and is regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy. The fumes from the wood essential oils are not only good for our immunity system but also increase energy and decrease feelings of anxiety, depression and anger.

*Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression known as major depressive disorder (MDD) with a seasonal pattern. It’s characterised by overwhelming feelings of sadness that can interfere with daily functioning. Symptoms of SAD can be severe and debilitating in comparison to the “winter blues”.

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References

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2. Ceolin, G., Mano, G., Hames, N. S., Antunes, L., Brietzke, E., Rieger, D. K., & Moreira, J. D. (2021). Vitamin D, Depressive Symptoms, and Covid-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 15, 670879. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2021.670879 [FN]

3. Choi, J. H., Lee, B., Lee, J. Y., Kim, C. H., Park, B., Kim, D. Y., Kim, H. J., & Park, D. Y. (2020). Relationship between Sleep Duration, Sun Exposure, and Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Status: A Cross-sectional Study. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 4168. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61061-8 [NR]

4. Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Serotonin. Cleveland Clinic [Online]. Accessed on 25 May 2022. Available from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22572-serotonin [CC]

5. Diamandis, E.P. (2020). Vitamin D and Magnesium – Benefits, Dosages, and Why They Should Go Together. Iamaware [Online]. Accessed on 19 May 2022. Available from https://www.imaware.health/blog/vitamin-d-and-magnesium [IA]

6. Fuller, K. (2021). Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Very Well Mind [Online]. Accessed on 3 June 2022. Available from https://www.verywellmind.com/winter-blues-vs-seasonal-affective-disorder-5101512 [VW]

7. Fredericks, R. (n.d.). Vitamin D and Depression. Mentalhelp [Online]. Accessed on 23 May 2022. Available from https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/vitamin-d-and-depression/ [MH]

8. Huberman, A. (2021). Toolkit for Sleep. Huberman Lab [Online]. Accessed on 1 June 2022. Available from https://hubermanlab.com/toolkit-for-sleep/ [AH]

9. ITL Health. (n.d.) Why You Should Supplement with Magnesium this Winter. ITL Health [Online] Accessed on 18 May 2022. Available from https://www.itlhealth.com/articles/magnesium-benefits/why-you-should-supplement-with-magnesium-this-winter [ITL]

10. Kim, C. S., & Shin, D. M. (2019). Probiotic food consumption is associated with lower severity and prevalence of depression: A nationwide cross-sectional study. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 63-64, 169–174. [N] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2019.02.007

11. Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ Health Prev Med 15, 9–17 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3 [EH]

12. Lipman, F. (2011). SAD: Winter Blues Busters. Huffpost [Online]. Accessed on 18 May 2022. Available from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sad-winter-blues-busters_b_813069 [HP]

13. Preiato, D & Collins, R. (2022). Exercise and the Brain: The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Healthline [Online]. Accessed on 1 June 2022. Available from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise [HL2]

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