Do you get up lately and feel blue, or get home from work and simply want to change into jammies and watch TV? Not much energy or motivation, always feeling sad, difficulty concentrating, or a loss of interest in personal hobbies.
You may have what is called SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or Winter Blues. Winter Blues is associated with less sunlight. Since we are in the Northeast, we are more likely to experience SAD. An example of this is only 1% of Sarasota residents in Florida experience SAD as compared to 9% of the population in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Besides living further from the equator and getting less sunlight, there are other reasons people are at higher risk for SAD. Those with a family history of depressive disorders, including major depression and bipolar disorder, the female gender, those working in dark environments like windowless offices and night shifts, and those with poor gut health. For this blog, I am going to focus on sunlight, Vitamin D, and plants.
It is hard to find enough sunlight in New Hampshire in the winter, so, we have to find ways to combat that. During the winter months, individuals with limited access to sunlight fail to produce enough vitamin D in their bodies. Vitamin D is needed to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels. Insufficient vitamin D reduces your serotonin levels, resulting in negative mood shifts, lethargy, and unhealthy food cravings. Research shows that vitamin D supplementation is associated with reduced SAD depressive symptoms. Moreover, it may prevent the onset of winter blues when taken early in the season (i.e., early fall).
The optimal level of vitamin D supplementation is 5000-6000 units per day, depending on your age, weight, diet, area of residence (how much sunlight you are getting), and skin tone. Consult your doctor for help in personalizing your vitamin D dosage. I make sure that I take Vitamin D every day all year long.
Another great tool to combat Winter Blues is the lightbox or Sun Lamp Therapy, or the Happy Light (that’s what I call it). “Happy Lights” are a viable replacement for natural light. Research shows that light therapy (or phototherapy) improves depressive symptoms of SAD. For optimal results, bask in the artificial light upon waking up. A lightbox that emits 10,000 lux of bright light (white or blue) usually works best.
I purchased a sunlamp this fall and use it every day for about 45 minutes. There are so many different kinds of sunlamps with a wide range of prices. I was specifically looking for one that I could place on an end table and not have to take it out and put away every day. Convenience was key to my using it every day.
Another suggestion to help combat Winter Blues is to take on a few house plants or plant a winter garden. Research suggests that greenery can boost our mood and have other positive effects. In 2019, Melinda Knuth, an assistant professor at North Carolina State in the horticulture department, and one of her colleagues published an updated review summarizing the different effects plants have on people. They combed through existing studies from the last 10 years on emotional and mental health benefits—which totaled about 2,500 articles and nine months of work.
“We talked about the fact that plants can help you reduce the stress hormone cortisol, just by being around plants,” Knuth says. “Not only can we have this subconscious benefit when [we’re] near them, but just simply looking at a picture of a plant can also help reduce your blood pressure and heart rate, which is incredible.”
I have not tried plants yet. However, it is next on my list. I have the potting soil and the pots. I just need to go out and get some happy-looking plants. My feeling with the plants is, even if it doesn’t help with Winter Blues, they will look good in the house. The key is keeping them alive.
In summary, there are a few simple hacks to help with Winter Blues (SAD). Get a sunlamp, some Vitamin D, and some plants. If these suggestions don’t help and you are still feeling blue, call your doctor.
Hang in there everyone, spring is on the way!