Are the Winter Blues slowing you down?
The winter blues are very common, with many of us experiencing a mood shift during the colder, darker days of winter. You may find yourself feeling more lethargic and down overall. Although you may feel more gloomy than usual, the winter blues typically don't hinder your ability to enjoy life.
But if your winter blues start permeating all aspects of your life — from work to relationships — you may be facing depression, sometimes this might be referred to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a recurrent type of depression associated with the change in seasons. It typically starts in the autumn and persists through the winter months. While SAD is rare in Australia, many Australians report that they feel flat and lethargic in winter. If this condition persists over as little as a couple of weeks, the winter blues can develop into a full blown depression.
Depression is more complicated than wanting to hunker down and stay in for the night. It's more than simply cursing the cold breeze. And it's more than longing for those first days of spring.
The primary culprit of both the winter blues is the lower level of natural sunlight. In Australia this is primarily caused by starting your work day in the early hours when it is still dark and working through until it is dark again. Some of us will choose to stay indoors all day simply to stay out of the cold, however, less natural light can cause the following problems:
Dips in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood;
Disruptions in circadian rhythms (your body’s internal clock), which help control sleep-wake cycles;
Alterations in melatonin, a hormone associated with both mood and sleep.
All of these factors can have a direct impact on your mood and if you're having mood difficulties, other things can start to fall apart too. You may find less enjoyment in your life, your work performance may suffer and you may start struggling with your relationships.
Here are four ways to get a leg up on the winter blues:
1. Recognize the signs
The most common symptoms of the winter blues are general sadness and a lack of energy. Other symptoms of the winter blues include the following:
Feeling less social than usual;
Difficulty taking initiative.
The hallmarks of depression are sleep too much and overeating. Other common symptoms include:
Mood that is down or depressed most of the day, nearly every day;
Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy;
Withdrawing and isolating yourself from friends and family;
Struggling to focus and perform at work or home;
Feeling constantly fatigued and lethargic;
Feeling hopeless about the future.
2. Don't ignore your symptoms
If you're experiencing depressive symptoms — even mild ones associated with the winter blues — it is important to talk to your GP or a psychologist to discuss your options.
Your GP can provide you with a Mental Health Care Plan which enables you to obtain significant rebates through Medicare for up to 10 visits with a psychologist.
We have both male and female psychologists who are all highly skilled to treat depression in an effective and personalised way.
3. Find a treatment that works for you
The good news about both the winter blues and depression is there are a number of evidence-based treatments that can be quite effective in alleviating your symptoms.
Sunlight: It's important to get outside whenever the sun is out during these darker days. Take a walk during your lunch break, play with your kids at the park, or simply find a sunny sheltered spot and enjoy the view. Exposing yourself to natural light will help boost serotonin production and your overall mood.
Exercise: Research consistently shows a strong exercise-mental health connection, particularly for those with depression and anxiety. That's why experts often refer to exercise as nature's antidepressant. Exercise can increase serotonin and endorphins, which both affect mood. Moderate exercise of at least 30 minutes most days of the week may provide the biggest mood boost.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy: has been shown to be clinically effective and extremely beneficial for all types of depression and anxiety.
Medication: If more conservative treatments are not providing adequate relief, you may need antidepressants to regulate the chemical imbalances associated with the winter blues. While you may be able to taper off the medication as you head into spring, it is important to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication or dosage.
4. Embrace a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining a regular schedule during the winter months can help keep your hormones in balance and regulate your mood. Follow these tips to help manage your winter mood:
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to help normalize your circadian rhythms;
Structure your eating patterns by eating three meals a day, around the same time every day;
Avoid the common urge in the winter to overindulge in simple carbohydrates, such as starchy or sweet foods;
Eat a balanced diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains;
Make (and keep) plans with friends and families to help you stay connected to your loved ones;
Take time for yourself and engage in activities you enjoy.