Updated: Dec 27, 2022
Winters are here ,so is the wistful feeling over us in late autumn. The morning frost covers the ground and sun sets early each day. The human body, its metabolism and hormones react to this change. This further leads to change in mood and behaviour. Thus, seasonal affective disorder symptoms come into play in some people. If it feels like it’s harder to find joy, you feel low or uninterested in things around, be sure that you are not alone. In India, more than 10 million people experience winter blues/ winter depression. SAD generally sets in late fall and early winter and continues till spring.
Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)
How does SAD occur?
Sunlight exposure stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain that regulates circadian rhythm of the body. Lack of light cut the circadian rhythm which causes brain to produce more of sleep hormone- melatonin, and decreases serotonin leading to chemical imbalance.
Feeling tired and lethargic
Overeating especially high carbohydrate and high calorie comfort foods
Impaired concentration and cognitive decline
Sleeping too much
Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
Women and young people
Family history of bipolarity/SAD
More common in people living far of north and south of the equator
How can we help ourselves or others dealing with winter depression?
Stick to a schedule
Get moving- exercise can help in preventing weight gain. It releases endorphins that helps to boost up the mood. yoga asanas like shavasana, child pose, kapalbhati pranayama, planks can help in reducing anxiety.
Let the sunshine in- even if you are indoors, keep the blinds open to let in the natural light. Try to get sunlight before 10am and at least a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
Take a vacation- even a short break to a sunny place can be helpful
Consider avoiding alcohol- because it may further worsen the depression symptoms
Stay connected with your friends and family
Keep a journal- writing down thoughts can help to prioritise the problems and identifying the triggers
Get enough of vitamin D, that is also shown to be associated in improving depressive symptoms
Use dawn stimulators- these are like alarm clocks that produces light which gradually increases in intensity just like sunlight
Talk with a mental health professional, if the symptoms are draining you a lot and consider taking medications
Some food tips useful for alleviating winter blues
Limit sugar intake
Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries help in preventing the release cortisol which is a stress hormone
Bananas has tryptophan amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin- a happy hormone. Magnesium in bananas help in reducing anxiety and sleep induction.
Look for high fiber carbohydrate food like brown rice, quinoa, oats and green leafy vegetables.
Stay well hydrated. Although we do not sweat much in winters but the dry air from indoor heating can make nose, skin and throat dry. Foods such as soups and herbal tea will do good.
Lastly, if you feel down for days, don’t feel motivated to do activities, your sleep and appetite patterns has changed or you turn to alcohol for comfort and relaxation or having suicidal thoughts, contact your doctor immediately. Experiencing depression is not a sign of weakness and should not be felt ashamed for. Rather, share your thoughts with your family and friends.
Dr. Damanjit Kaur
Faith Hospital, Chandigarh