You can run, but you can’t hide. Winter is coming.

fallen autumn leaf
The colorful leaves are falling of the trees, days are getting shorter, and the temperature is dropping. For some people, this is enough to send shivers down their spine both physically and emotionally!

Depending on where you live, the transition to winter can be a tough one. Up to 16 million people (5% of the US population) suffer from the Winter Blues (Cotterell, 2010).

Are YOU are affected by The Winter Blues…..

  • Are you craving CARBS and overeating?
  • Do you have difficulty concentrating? Or do you have increased difficulty completing tasks?
  • Have you experienced a loss of your sex drive?
  • Are you more irritable or do you get annoyed easier?
  • Do you either experience increased insomnia or do you always feel tired?
  • Do you feel “down” or “lazy” more frequently?
  • Are you slowly gaining weight?
  • Do you feel like hibernating inside your home until Spring?

How many did you get? I got 5…nearly 6!

What is happening to us?

Here is the super simplified version of what is happening to our bodies. The easy version boils down to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. This is why….

  • Serotonin: This awesome neurotransmitter regulates mood, appetite, and the sleep wake cycle. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to clinical depression. The reduced level of sunlight in the late fall and winter months may have an effect on an individuals serotonin levels by the creation of an evil transporter protein that pilfers our precious serotonin (McMahon, et al., 2016)!
  • Melatonin: This is a sleep-related hormone what regulates sleep patterns and mood. It is produced in the dark which contributes to us getting sleepy at night. It also been linked to our natural “biological clock” or circadian rhythm, that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up (Mental Health America, 2016)! As you may have noticed, there are more hours of darkness in the winter months.

Because the Winter Blues appear to be a physiological process, it may seem hopeless… but its not.  We have some control over our Winter blues…we can FIGHT BACK!

Here are 5 super simple tips to help with the Winter Blues:

LET THERE BE LIGHT! Increase the amount of light in your life. A Full Spectrum light box is an easy way fight the winter blues. Increased light helps to suppress the brains secretion of melatonin (the stuff we secrete at night before bed that tells us to go to sleep). This is the ONLY tip I was able to find that will actually reduce your level of the hormone melatonin. Keep in mind it will take a few days of using the light in the morning. Give it a try!

MOVE YOUR BODY: Aerobic exercise is a GREAT way to increase your brains serotonin level! We LOVE our serotonin, don’t we? That’s not all, there is more good news…exercise not only increases the release of serotonin, it also increases the level of tryptophan which is the amino acid that is used to make MORE serotonin! It’s a double bonus (Turcotte, 2013)! If you want to incorporate some light into your exercise, go OUTSIDE in the daylight and take a brisk walk. If you like anaerobic activities (weight lifting, yoga) DO IT! Moving your body will help get you out of the rut!

AVOID ALCOHOL: Alcohol is a depressant. As a result, it produces the exact opposite reaction we are trying to accomplish! Alcohol is tricky; however, because can provide a short-term boost to your serotonin giving you the impression that it helps you feel better. However, long-term excess can actually lower your overall levels and can exacerbate the feelings of unhappiness and depression. It would be as if someone put a light blanket of unhappiness over you 24/7. Also, alcohol interferes with the amino acid tryptophan, which we already know; the body needs to produce our favorite neurotransmitter serotonin (David M. Lovinger, 1997).

EAT CHOCOLATE: I am NOT kidding! Maybe my beer and wine-drinking friends will forgive me for the alcohol tip! Serotonin and tryptophan can increase after you eat a small amount of DARK chocolate (Healthy Eating, 2016). Chocolate containing 85 percent cocoa will provide the greatest boost to your serotonin. The effect will only last for 1-2 hours…so keep a few on hand. Remember to add the extra calories to your overall diet plan so you can account for your total macronutrients.

PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP STRATEGIES: I think we all could use a refresher on good sleep strategies! As a matter of fact, I may need to write a separate blog on tips to  improve sleep! For starters, reduce blue light in the evenings. Any light at night messes up our bodies natural sleep/wake cycle by confusing our melatonin (“should I release? Should I not release? How do I know?). However, blue light (the light from electronics) has wavelengths that are similar to natural light and is designed to wake us up by boosting attention, reaction time, and mood (Harvard Health Letter, 2012). So leave the blue light for the full-spectrum light in the morning! Second, make sure you establish a good sleep ritual. Just as children fall asleep easier when they follow a routine, adults do too. Create a “power-down hour” before bed and create a relaxing routine to help you prepare your body for sleep.

There you have it! Five effective ways to FIGHT the winter blues!

If you are one of those people prone to the winter blues and you want to make sure not to fall into that rut this year, then schedule a free discovery session to chat with me to see if life coaching can help make your winter months not only bearable but pleasurable too!

What do you think? Did I miss a tip that works for you?  Leave a comment and pass on a tip!

**It is important to note that the clinical diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a subtype of either depression or bipolar disorder, is a diagnosable mental health disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Individuals with a diagnosable mood disorder would benefit from these tips as well as working with a mental health professional.**

Winter Blues References

Would you like some more information?

  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  • Cotterell, D. (2010). Pathogenesis and management of seasonal affective disorder. Progress in Neurology and Psychology , 14 (5), 18-25.
  • David M. Lovinger, P. (1997). Serotonin’s role in alcohol’s effects on the brain. Neurotransmitter Review , 21 (2), 114-120.
  • Harvard Health Letter. (2012, May 1). www.health.harvard.edu. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from www.health.harvard.edu: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
  • Healthy Eating. (n.d.). Healthy Eating. Retrieved Occtober 26, 2016, from www.healthyeating.com: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/dark-chocolate-serotonin-levels-5558.html
  • McMahon, B., Andersen, S., Madsen, M., Hjordt, L., Hageman, Dam, H., et al. (2016). Seasonal difference in brain serotonin transporter binding predicts symptom severity in patients with seasonal affective disorder. Brain , 1605-1614.
  • Mental Health America. (2016, October 26). www.mentalhealthamerica.com. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from www.mentalhealthamerica.com: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad#Source%204
  • Turcotte, M. (2013, August 19). Livestrong.com. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from www.livestrong.com: http://www.livestrong.com/article/245341-low-serotonin-levels-symptoms/