Let’s remember our usual state of health and mood at the beginning of winter: cool weather, first snow, approaching holidays – everything is perceived with enthusiasm. Running through the crisp snow, the frost stings the skin. The cool air is filled with freshness – as if we were back in childhood!
And then the picture changes dramatically: fatigue, drowsiness, depressed mood, apathy, dullness outside the window begins to irritate, the cold wind infuriates, uncleaned snow also infuriates. I often want to stay warm at home, drink tea with a cake, and continue so until spring.
Sound familiar? You are not alone. This is not a bad character and not banal laziness. This condition is called a seasonal affective disorder, or in short, winter depression.
What it is?
Seasonal affective disorder (Seasonal Affective Disorder, abbreviated SAD) is a disorder of the body directly related to a decrease in sunlight in the winter. Seasonal Disorder is more common in people living far from the equator, where there is less daylight in winter.
Depression occurs every year at the same time – it usually begins in late autumn, intensifies in winter and ends in spring.
Some people experience SAD even in summer, although this is much less common.
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes winter depression. But there are several interesting hypotheses for the origin of SAD.
For example, this is a relic of evolution, akin to many animals, in which activity significantly decreases in winter (a vivid example is bear hibernation).
Lack of sunlight has a direct effect on circadian rhythms. They are the “biological clock.” The circadian rhythm system is sensitive to when the sun rises and sets and tries to synchronize.
In the dark, the pineal gland produces a substance called melatonin, responsible for the sleepiness we feel every day after dusk. Light entering the eyes at dawn stops the production of melatonin.
During the short winter days, when people get up before dawn or continue to work after sunset, jet lag is disrupted, causing SAD symptoms.
Another theory suggests that a decrease in the number of sunlight causes decreased serotonin levels – a neurotransmitter, which is often called the “hormone of happiness.”
And another theory makes the main culprit of the winter depression vitamin D: Since sunlight helps us produce this vitamin, reducing the sun in winter can lead to a deficiency.
Vitamin D helps keep bones healthy and strong, promotes better calcium absorption, and improves immune function. And that is not all: researchers believe since vitamin D is important for healthy brain function, inadequate levels may play a significant role in depression and other mental illnesses.
What are the symptoms of winter depression?
- frequent unreasonable sadness and depression;
- increased sleepiness despite an increase in the number of hours of sleep;
- rapid fatigability and decreased concentration of attention;
- loss of interest and pleasure in activities that you usually enjoy, the feeling that nothing pleases;
- changes in appetite and eating habits: want to eat more, with an emphasis on fast carbs, cravings for sweets may increase. And as a result – weight gain;
- mood swings, anxiety, social isolation.
How can I help myself?
Of course, you can just
teeth clenched wait for spring, but there are some ways to ease your suffering. Here they are.
We keep running
Yes, runners are happy people! Physical activity by 19% reduces the likelihood of depression – what is not a reason to continue jogging in the winter?
It is best to go for a run just after sunrise to get more light. Daylight and fresh air at this time of day will cheer you up, help you replenish your vitamin D and those endorphins. And you will feel that you cope with the winter blues much better.
Some experts believe that running has the greatest effect on mood when combined with social interaction—a great excuse to find a training partner or join a running club nearby.
It may well happen that under the influence of a depressive mood, you do not really want to walk and run in the cold. Try to connect motivation. While others go into hibernation, you build a running base and improve your shape. And when, with the onset of spring, most amateurs look like typical “snowdrops,” you will be ahead of everyone in your progress. And then the warmth will come, and the mood will improve.
Getting the most out of daylight hours
If there is little natural light in your home or office, try opening the blinds and curtains completely, removing clutter from the windowsills, and sitting closer to the window – even this seemingly banality will help improve your well-being.
Do not close yourself at home watching TV series for many hours. It is ineffective. Better to dress warmly and go for a walk in the nearest forest or park. There are sunny days in late autumn and winter too – don’t miss them.
An excellent example of the fact that life does not end with the onset of cold weather is Finland and Norway, whose residents, despite the long (six months in the Arctic) winter, are very fond of long family walks and other types of activities. And children from a very early age are left to sleep outside during the day. Maybe that’s why the inhabitants of these countries regularly get high positions in various ratings of the “happiest.”
Boosting Serotonin Production
Besides mood, serotonin helps regulate appetite and influences bone density, blood clotting, and sleep quality. The body produces serotonin naturally, but there are several ways to increase its production.
You can’t get serotonin directly from food, but you can get tryptophan, an amino acid that metabolizes serotonin. Tryptophan is found primarily in high protein foods, including turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, and legumes.
Also here physical activity comes to the rescue again: according to Harvard health, even if you start doing simple exercises for 15-20 minutes a day, it will affect your mood.
Massage will help increase serotonin and dopamine levels, another neurotransmitter associated with mood, and decrease cortisol levels, a hormone produced by the body in response to stress.
Some research is believed that being in a good mood can also help increase serotonin levels. Researchers have studied the interaction between mood and memory. People with sad memories produced less serotonin. Think about what makes you feel happy and visualize your positive memories and pleasant experiences as often as possible.
Replenishing Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D (calciferol) is the general name for fat-soluble vitamins D1, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6. Two are beneficial to human health: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).
Ergocalciferol enters the body from the outside – together with food, cholecalciferol is synthesized by the body itself under the influence of ultraviolet radiation.
Therefore, in addition to being outdoors in the daytime, eat foods containing vitamin D: cod liver, fish (pink salmon, salmon, mackerel, chum salmon, herring, trout), egg yolks, goat milk, hard cheese.
If you feel faint and lethargic during the winter, talk to your doctor about adding vitamin D supplements to your diet.
We use light therapy.
Light therapy using a device that emits bright white light is now considered the best form of treatment for SAD. The initial “dose” for light therapy using a luminescent lightbox is 10,000 lux for 30 minutes a day. Alternatively, 2500 lux light boxes require two hours of exposure per day.
The session should be started early in the morning after waking up to get the most out of the treatment. Research shows that even one hour of the light session can quickly improve symptoms of depression in people with SAD.
We monitor the diet
We are what we eat. Already been proven that food affects our mood in different ways, and the right diet can help with depression.
Let your diet include “brain food” rich in healthy fats: salmon (or other fatty fish), nuts, and avocados. Fruits and vegetables, lean meat are also useful.
But alcohol and fast carbohydrates – cakes, cookies, sneakers, etc., are best minimized. There is no crime in a glass of wine once a week, but if you constantly “wash down” a bad mood, the symptoms will only worsen.
We observe the regime of the day.
Not getting enough sleep is bad for your body, and seasonal depression will only worsen your symptoms. Sleep enough hours, try to fall asleep, and wake up at the same time every day. By the way, the idea of sleeping all the way on weekends is also ineffective – oversleeping does not relieve the symptoms of SAD.
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