Are the ‘winter blues’ the body’s way of telling us we want to hibernate?
When animals hibernate, their metabolic rate slows down, they sleep and survive on their fat reserves as food is scarce; this helps them to survive until the spring. For humans Tesco’s is open all year round! (Other supermarkets are available!)
Some people get the winter blues on an extreme scale and suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but for the majority of us we find we eat more, crave carbs and gain weight, lack in energy, withdraw from social activities and sleep more. We can also be more irritable and feel worthless. There is a definite connection between the dark, cold, shorter days and these feelings. The lack of light effects the production of both serotonin and melatonin, the first being the body’s feel good hormone and the other being responsible for sleep. People with SAD often have lower serotonin and higher levels of melatonin. During the long winter months there is less sunlight and we are constantly wrapped up against the cold our levels of vitamin D can be reduced leading to depression and anxiety; Vitamin D is produced during exposure to sunlight.
There are major differences between the winter blues and clinical depression; people with depression often loose interest in food and may lose weight. They also have difficulty sleeping, where a person with SAD will have the opposite, sleeping lots and eating more.
So, what can we do to feel better during these bleak winter months?
· Take control; decide to do something about how you are feeling and be more positive.
· Keep active; going for a walk preferably in the middle of the day when there is most light can be helpful. Being out in natural daylight as much as possible will improve mood and
if you can’t get outside try to sit near a window. Also, during exercise, the body produces serotonin which helps us feel good. For some people with the more extreme SAD light therapy can be very beneficial.
· Eat healthily; having plenty of fruit and vegetables with good carbohydrates can boost mood, prevent weight gain and increase energy levels.
· Connect; talk to people, spend time with family and friends, sharing how you are feeling and getting some emotional support,try to socialise and spend time with others makes us feel happier and more secure.
· Challenge yourself; maybe learn a new skill, evidence shows that continued learning throughout life helps maintain mental wellbeing, increasing self-esteem and giving a sense of purpose.
· Avoid unhealthy habits; alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs may give temporary relief but do not help wellbeing in the long term.
The good news is the winter blues will subside once the longer, warmer and brighter days arrive; and if they don’t and you are worried a trip to see your GP would be recommended.