As the days become shorter, many people find themselves feeling blue around the winter holidays, or after the fun and festivities have ended.
The winter blues is a general term, and not a medical diagnosis. It usually clears up in a short amount of time, and is often related to something specific (stressful holidays, reminders of absent loved ones, etc.).
Although it is fairly common, it is more mild than serious.
There is a more severe type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
SAD follows a regular pattern - it appears each year as the seasons change, and goes away several months later (usually in the spring and summer).
Seasonal affective changes look different to different people. For some, it may be sadness, a loss of interest, or feelings of worthlessness. For others, it may look like fatigue, over sleeping, or insomnia.
The bright news is that there are many things that can be done to combat the winter blues.
Here are our favourite (and research based) tips to boost mood and help with seasonal affective changes.
Light Exposure 💡
Have you heard of a SAD lamp before?
It is specialized light box that mimics the sunshine that's missing during the dark winter months.
Research has shown that use of a SAD lamp may improve seasonal affective changes by encouraging the brain to reduce the production of melatonin and increase the production of serotonin (keep reading for the functions of serotonin) - both of which are important for regulation of the body's internal rhythm.
The key to light therapy: bright light exposure must be within 30 minutes of waking (and for at least 30 minutes each day).
The gut and the brain are in constant communication with each other. The primary messenger is serotonin - also known as the "feel good" neurotransmitter.
Serotonin has many functions in the body. It regulates mood, appetite, sleep, learning, and memory.
Did you know, 95% of serotonin is found in the gut? Nutrition is a very important piece of the puzzle. Diets rich in sugars and processed foods contribute to inflammation within the gut, cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria = poor serotonin production.
Instead, we should focus on eating a well-balanced diet, rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats and low in processed foods and sugar.
Vitamin D 🌞
Research indicates that vitamin D supplementation can be an effective treatment option for SAD.
While low vitamin D status has been linked to an increased risk of SAD, serum levels should always be tested first. Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, there is a risk of toxicity.
Testing is always recommended to determine a true deficiency, and to ensure appropriate dosing.
Identify the Root Cause 🌳
There are many reasons why you may be experiencing low mood and depression. Hormonal imbalances, gut health, environmental circumstances, and nutrient deficiencies are all factors to consider.
It is important to reach out to your ND to address the underlying cause in order to successfully support your symptoms.