If colder weather and shorter days have you feeling down and out, don't worry, you are not alone! It’s not uncommon for people living above the 49th parallel to experience fatigue, feelings of sadness or a lack of motivation during the winter months. This general feeling of “blah” is often accompanied by a disruption in a person's sleep schedule, and all of these factors can have a negative impact on a person's physical and mental health.
These seasonal changes in mood are usually temporary but for some the winter blues can turn into a more severe type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Truthfully, the winter is hard enough at the best of times, but when you add in the ongoing pandemic uncertainty into the mix, life can seem pretty bleak. The good news? There are many things we can do to fight back! Below we recommend eight science-backed ways you can beat the winter blues and #GoBeyond in 2022!
Sunshine & Vitamin D
It’s no surprise that sunshine makes you happy, but most people don’t know why. Vitamin D plays a critical role in how we feel, among many other essential functions. This hormone-like fat-soluble vitamin interacts with the endocrine or endogenous hormone system, which is directly linked to how we feel. Not surprisingly, low levels of Vitamin D are often found in people suffering from the symptoms of SAD. When your body is exposed to direct sunlight, it produces Vitamin D naturally. For us living north of the 49th, it's not always possible to get enough sun every day, so that is why taking supplemental Vitamin D during the winter months is so important. Taking Vitamin D before the winter months may even prevent symptoms of depression . Vitamin D is relatively inexpensive and well worth the investment for your mental and physical health.
Exercise & Movement
Whether it's elevating your heart rate with a brisk winter walk, run, or any workout at all, exercise can stave off the winter blues faster than you can say, “Is it spring yet?”. When you exercise, your brains release chemicals called endorphins that almost immediately boost your mood and this is like kryptonite to the winter blues. Recent studies have shown that this boost in mood is also accompanied by an increase in BDNF or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a trophic factor associated with cognitive improvement and alleviating depression and anxiety . Beyond the scientific benefits of exercise, setting fitness goals, following a schedule and holding yourself accountable all strengthen your self-discipline. Combining these benefits creates a strong foundation which helps build better habits and this transfers to all aspects of life.
When it comes to the winter blues, there are many things that we can't control, but there are a few things that we can. Sleep is arguably the most important factor that we can influence to break out of that winter funk. The connection between sleep and mental health is undeniable. An estimated 75% of people who have depression also show symptoms of insomnia. Experts have found that SAD is closely connected to the disruption of a person’s internal biological clock or circadian rhythm during the winter months. Not surprisingly, almost all of us tend to experience changes to our sleep cycles during the winter months. So this means that being a champion of your sleep schedule is crucial if you want to beat the winter blues. I know what you are thinking, sometimes it can feel like sleep is out of our control. The good news is that there are several all-natural sleep supplements and herbs available that will help you while you reset your sleep schedule. These include ingredients like melatonin and GABA, which inhibit neural activity, reduce mental stress, ease anxiousness, and induce deeper, higher-quality sleep . These supplements should not be taken all year-round but can be extremely helpful if you have difficulty resetting your sleep schedule.
Probably the least well-known but still a highly beneficial remedy to beat the winter blues is light therapy. What is light therapy? Basically, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box or lamp for a specific amount of time per day. The lamp gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light and helps activate brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep. With less natural day light during the winter months, light therapy is a potent way to treat SAD and other mental health conditions. Light therapy is UV-free and not to be confused with or replaced by using tanning beds, which use UV light. Light therapy lamps can be found online, and many people positively respond to light therapy within 3 to 5 days.
Stress & Lifestyle
Another area we have control over is our lifestyle and how we manage stress. We have all heard it a million times from motivational speakers; it's all about our attitude. The truth is, we really do have the ability to change our perspective and outlook at any given moment, which will dictate how we respond both mentally and physically. This pandemic has been stressful, long and grueling, and this pain is felt especially in the dark, cold winter months. Instead of dwelling on this, we have an opportunity to shift our perspectives and look for new ways to restore balance in our lives. It can be in the form of taking up a new winter hobby, challenging yourself with at-home yoga, downloading a meditation app or maybe picking up a self-help book. It's these small positive incremental changes made every day that will make a huge difference. Sometimes seemingly minor stressors or poor lifestyle choices can contribute to or even be the underlying root cause of feeling the winter blues.
Nutrition & Supplements
We are what we eat! So it's no surprise that if you are feeling down and out this winter, your diet is the first place you should look. If you feel like crap, chances are your eating habits are crap. But that's okay! You don’t need to stress out about what you have done in the past, now is the time to change what you will do moving forward.
Eating nutrient-dense, fresh, and living food is essential for optimal mental health, especially in the winter. Ditch the heavily processed foods, sugary snacks, greasy fast foods and opt for more simple options like organic fruits, veggies and hormone/ antibiotic-free meats. Sometimes this isn’t possible every day, or there might be a specific nutrient that you might be deficient in, which is why supplementation is occasionally necessary. The sad truth is that the mass-produced food available at grocery stores is notoriously low in nutrient value.
Supplements like multivitamins or powdered greens like Beyond Yourself GrEEAns that offers the equivalent to 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per serving to deliver a comprehensive range of micronutrients that your body needs to thrive. When your body is happy, you will feel happy.
Infrared sauna heat works by penetrating tissues, joints and muscles, increasing blood flow allowing better circulation. Regular use of an infrared sauna will reduce pain and muscle spasms allowing your body to relax and heal naturally. This occurs in part due to an increased release of endorphins and stress reduction. The bonus of these incredible heat-induced endorphins is that they also positively enhance your mood! These endorphins are like nature's painkillers, and pain is often the primary contributing factor reported by people with depression or those suffering from SAD . Using an infrared sauna is a cost-effective therapy that will immediately improve your overall health and mental well-being .
I know what you are thinking; how can cold therapy possibly help with the WINTER blues? In recent years, cold therapy has been used to help treat depression and mood disorders. Cold therapy treatments include daily cold water immersion such as ice baths, cold water showers or even cryotherapy chambers. The reason cold helps with the winter blues is very similar to that of the infrared sauna but done oppositely.
Along with other benefits, the shock response from the cold temperatures causes a release of those same endorphins that reduce pain and change the way the body communicates with the brain. Therefore, cold water immersion is a potent therapeutic tool for people with depression and other mental conditions like SAD .
Disclaimer: Statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA, CFIA or Health Canada and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information provided is not a substitute for direct, individual medical treatment or advice. It is the responsibility of you and your healthcare providers to make all decisions regarding your health.