3 Tips to Beating Winter Blues
Do you find yourself struggling after turning the clocks back? Do you feel lethargic, and are you having problems making decisions or concentrating? Do you feel sad or depressed?
A recent study found that there was an 11% increase in depressive episodes during the switch from daylight savings to standard time.
Falling back, to gain one hour of daylight in the autumn months, causes reductions in sleep. Our bodies have an internal clock, or circadian rhythm, that cycles us through daily periods of sleep and wakefulness.
Studies report an increase in cardiac issues, stroke, cortisol production and car accidents within the first three weeks of Daylight Saving Time as our body’s circadian rhythm adjusts to the time change.
Our body clock sets itself based on our exposure to sunlight. When light enters our eyes, it sends a message to our brain that it’s time to wake up. When it’s dark outside, a hormonal signal is sent to our brain signaling it’s time to sleep.
When the days are shorter, and there is a lack of exposure to sunlight, our body clocks may become disrupted. For some, this time of year can be debilitating. One of the most noticeable changes is the negative effect the change has on mood because we typically see the decrease in serotonin – a neurotransmitter that affects one’s mood.
A persistent depressed mood, irritability, and difficulty thinking and concentrating is a clinical disorder which usually begins around the same time every year – when DST starts – and usually finishes when spring arrives, and the seasons change. It’s known as SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
About 2 to 3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime. Another 15% will experience a milder form of SAD that leaves them only slightly depressed, but still able to live their life without major disruptions. People with seasonal affective disorder make up about 10% of all depression cases.
How to tell if it’s just the winter blues or SAD
The winter blues are common among many of us when the days get darker. And, although you may feel more gloomy than usual, the winter blues typically don’t hinder your ability to enjoy life.
But, if you begin to notice your winter blues permeate into all aspects of your life, from work to relationships, you may be facing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The good news, about combating both the winter blues and SAD, is, there are a number of evidence-based treatments.
Here are 3 ways to combat the winter blues or SAD
1 Get More Light!
Get out and walk in the morning sunlight. Even if it’s cold – just bundle up! You’ll feel more awake and ready to conquer the day!
You can also try a dawn simulator, which will gradually light up your bedroom in the morning.
2 Get Moving
Exercise can work wonders!
Low-intensity exercise, sustained over time, releases proteins which improve brain function and make you feel better.
Research consistently shows a strong exercise/mental health connection; often referring to exercise as nature’s antidepressant.
Exercise can increase serotonin and endorphins – the body’s feel-good chemicals. Moderate exercise of at least 30 minutes 4 to 5 times a week may provide the biggest bang for your buck, and make you feel better!
3 Improve Your Diet
During the colder months, many of us tend to crave high-carb comfort foods. While they may provide a temporary boost, most comfort foods will lead to a rapid rise and drop in blood sugar; which leads to more cravings. It can create a vicious yo-yo effect, and lead to weight gain; which may amplify a depressive mood.
Stick to foods providing a balance of low-impact, complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean protein. These foods will help keep the cravings down, and won’t have an impact on your waistline.
Don’t let Netflix be your only companion during the winter months. Make, and keep, plans with friends and family to help you stay connected to your loved ones.
Take time for yourself, and engage in activities you enjoy. It’s important to find a healthy balance between cozy time on the couch, and social time with friends and family.
NOTE: If you’re experiencing depressive symptoms, and don’t feel like yourself, it’s always important to talk to your Doctor or a psychologist to discuss your options.