What happened to the SUN?!?
The beautiful Fall leaves are blowing off the trees, the days are getting shorter, and the temperature is dropping.
Winter is coming.
This seasonal transition often brings changes to peoples mood. Depending on where you live, the transition to winter can be a dramatic adjustment. For nearly 16 million people (5%) of the US population suffers from the Winter Blues and 4 out of 5 of those people are women!
Do the winter blues affect you?
- 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 tired?
- Do you feel “down” or “lazy”?
- Are you slowly gaining weight?
- Do you feel like hibernating inside your home until Spring?
Causes of Winter Blues:
It all boils down to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. Here is the super simplified version…
- Serotonin: This awesome neurotransmitter regulates mood, appetite, and the sleep wake cycle. Low levels of serotonin has 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 a 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 at increased levels in the dark which is part of the reason we get 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)!
So, what are we expected to do during a cold, dark Minnesota winter?!? Hibernate with Netflix and a bag of chips??
NO! Believe it or 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 can be a super simple 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). Give it a couple days to notice the results!
- MOVE YOUR BODY: Aerobic exercise is GREAT to increase your brains serotonin levels! And remember, we LOVE our serotonin!! Not only will exercise increase the release of serotonin, it will also increase the level of tryptophan which is the amino acid that is used to make MORE serotonin (Turcotte, 2013)! It’s a double bonus! 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 of what we are trying to accomplish! Alcohol is tricky; however, because can provide a short-term boost 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. Alcohol also 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 last tip! Serotonin and tryptophan can increase after you eat a small amount of DARK chocolate. Chocolate containing 85 percent cocoa has the most 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 don’t get off track.
- PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP STRATEGIES: We could all use a refresher on good sleep strategies! First of all, reduce blue light in the evenings. Any light at night throws off our bodies natural sleep/wake cycle. However, blue light (the light from electronics) has wavelengths similar to sunlight and are designed to wake us up (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 there is a routine, adults do too. Create a power-down hour before bed and create a relaxing routine to help prepare your body for sleep.
There you have it! Five effective ways to FIGHT the winter blues!
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