As the seasons are changing and days are getting shorter lots of people experience seasonal fatigue and feelings of sadness and depression. We are going to talk about some reasons why these feelings may happen and some ways you can fight your winter blues.
What is seasonal fatigue?
Seasonal fatigue involves feelings of tiredness that come from shorter days disrupting sleep patterns and waking cycles. This fatigue also can happen because lower levels of sunlight produce more melatonin (a sleep hormone), which increases feelings of sleepiness.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
About 2 to 3 % of Canadians experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and 15 % experience a more mild version of SAD. SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changing seasons. For most people, SAD begins in the fall and can continue through the winter months. One reason for feeling the effects of seasonal depression is lower levels of sunlight disrupting your body’s internal clock. Like we mentioned above, this happens because your brain may be confused by changing light levels and produce the sleep hormone melatonin throughout the day. Another reason is that less sunlight exposure can reduce levels of serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood).
What are some strategies to manage seasonal depression and fatigue?
- 1. Get Outside
Try to spend time outside for at least 10 minutes a day. If there is sunlight, moving, standing or sitting in the sun can stimulate your production of Vitamin D (which helps reduce depressive symptoms). If there isn’t any sunlight, it is still great to get outside because being in the daylight can help regulate your internal clock. As a bonus, moving your body releases good-mood endorphins that can help enhance feelings of well-being.
2. Use Light Therapy
One type of light therapy uses light boxes with fluorescent lights to supplement our bodies’ need for light during darker months. Typically, people use these boxes for thirty minutes within the first hour of waking up. Light therapy can help balance serotonin levels and improve your internal clock. A second type is a dawn simulator that mimics the effects of dawn over 30 minutes to an hour. These help you wake up in a more natural way and help to regulate your circadian rhythm.
3. Increase Vitamin D Intake
Oftentimes people with SAD, or people feeling low or fatigued from winter months are low in Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important because it can play a role in the production of serotonin and dopamine. Try including more Vitamin D rich foods in your diet or taking Vitamin D supplements. Check out these plant-based sources of Vitamin D.
4. Focus on a Colorful Diet
Try adding more fruits and vegetables to your meals. By focusing on eating healthy complex carbs, we can maintain healthy levels of serotonin. Things like berries, bananas, leafy greens, beans, whole wheat food and protein rich foods can all help regulate hormones. You can also try incorporating one of these seven mood boosting foods.
5. Try Aromatherapy
It has been found that using essential oils can help with feelings of anxiety and depression. Especially for SAD, essential oils can influence the area of the brain responsible for controlling moods and the body’s circadian rhythm. There are many ways you can use aromatherapy including using a diffuser, body oils or aroma sticks.
6. Yoga & Meditation
Yoga and meditation are both great ways to increase levels of serotonin from the comfort of home. Not only can they increase serotonin, but they also stimulate the pineal gland which regulates melatonin and patterns of sleeping and waking up. To start things off, check out these yoga poses that help with seasonal depression. You can also check out the apps Calm or Headspace for guided meditations.
7. Spend time with Friends and Family
In the colder seasons it can be easier to stay home and have less social interaction. Try creating some social obligations – they can help lift your mood and get you out of your head. This may look like weekly dinners, coffee dates or walks with your friends.
Mental Health Resources
Like any mental health issue, seasonal depression can range from mild to severe cases, and it is important to reach out for support if your seasonal depression is making you feel down for many days at a time or you cannot find motivation to do activities you normally enjoy. For more information about seasonal depression chat with a healthcare professional or head to Mayo Clinic. We also attached some great mental health resources below. If these resources are not available where you live, consider reaching out to a counselor, or friends and family that can help you find professional support.
- British Columbia Service Finder
- Canadian Help Lines
- Mental Health Self-tests, Q&A and Stories
- The Mental Health Support and Information Line
- 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number). It’s free and available 24 hours a day.
- Seasonal Depression – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
- Seasonal Fatigue – https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/5-ways-to-wipe-out-winter-tiredness/
- Treating Seasonal Depression – https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/treatment/ways-to-ease-seasonal-depression/
- Light Therapy – https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/light-therapy
- Vitamin D – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vitamin-d-seasonal-affective-disorder_n_5c3e0200e4b0e0baf5416024
- Diet – https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/the-best-foods-to-soothe-seasonal-depression/
If you’re curious how getting outside can help your mental health, check out our blog on the Mental Health Benefits of Nature.