The secrets to overcoming winter blues.
Updated: Oct 31
I have a confession to make…
the dark long winters of the Nordics used to have a huge negative impact on my mood, and it was one of the main reasons I moved away from this region.
The limited access to daytime sunlight affected my ability to get up in the morning and I ended up feeling low and lethargic.
I’m sure this will resonate with you if you’ve ever spent a longer period in this part of the world during the winter months. These symptoms are often indicators of the so-called winter depression or as explained in more clinical terms; seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What can you do to combat/prevent experiencing SAD and overcoming winter blues?
I’ve researched and experimented my way through this dark season. Below are some of my findings; some simple lifestyle changes that can make it easier to cope with or prevent the onset off SAD. The suggestions might not be surprising, but these simple tweaks seem to really make a difference.
1. Embrace your morning coffee
To keep the circadian body rhythm in place, it’s advisable to limit coffee to the morning as it stays in the body for five hours before completely broken down, so if taken later in the day it can have an impact on your sleep.
Naturally, everyone feels the effect of caffein differently depending on their sensitivity to the drug and how often they use it. However, if you are pregnant or have difficulty sleeping you should be careful of your caffeine intake and might want to avoid it altogether (Johnson, J. 2018).
2. Daily exposure to light therapy
Exposure to light therapy works through increasing serotonin levels in the brain and reduce the overproduction of melatonin. It can have an impact on activity levels, feelings, and general wellbeing.
Daylight therapy lamps can create a suitable replacement for natural sunlight and can be used both as a treatment or as a preventative measure. I use the brand Beurer TL20 with a light power of 10000 lux.
I keep it on the side of my desk (not directly facing me) about 30cm away while working on the computer in the morning. I pause and gaze into it for brief periods of time.
Please follow the instructions carefully and if you have any preexisting health conditions, refer to your GP or other health practitioner before using this type of device.
" People affected by SAD may have a higher-than-normal melatonin production" (NHS, 2022).
3. Take daily walks
To increase the feel-good chemical serotonin even gentle exercise like a quick walk combined with natural light exposure (even during cloud cover) can have a positive impact on your mood and contribute to overcome winter blues.
4. Increase your D-vitamin intake
Check with your GP regarding the levels you should ideally be taking as a dietary supplement. Vitamin D is produced when your skin is exposed to daylight, it can also help boost serotonin activity.
5. Eat a serotonin boosting diet
Eat food containing tryptophan, an amino acid that is synthesized into serotonin. Increase your intake of, eggs, pineapples, cheese, tofu, salmon, turkey, high fiber diet, nuts and seeds.
In addition, add probiotics to your diet, eat high fiber and mix these foods with carbohydrates (Healthline, 2020, Healthline, 2022). Please be aware that too much serotonin could cause Serotonin Syndrome, a serious condition that can be life threatening.
6. Engage in exercise you enjoy
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when it's cold and dark outside, but engage in regular activities you really enjoy to increase serotonin levels.
If strenuous exercise is not your idea of fun, get involved in something you love in small portions instead, e.g., put on some music in the kitchen to dance to, do a 5-minute online workout, alternate run-jog or try out a new activity.
Afterwards, notice how you feel to motivate yourself to repeat this in the future.
7. Meet up with friends and loved ones
Feeling connected to others is important to prevent depression from developing. Although you might not feel like going out, try to remember how you will feel afterwards or tell yourself you’ll only stay for a few minutes.
Alternatively, if you really don’t fancy socialising with lots of people try meeting up with just one person or seek out small groups that you share something in common with, e.g. charity work, gardening, hiking group, etc. Having something positive to look forward to can shift your outlook on life.
Everyone experiences the winter season differently and the suggestions above are examples of activities that could make this time of the year easier to cope with. For more information on possible symptoms and causes of SAD, read my blog
If you are finding this time of the year difficult, please reach out to a professional therapist to share how you feel, so they can support you through this challenging period.
Please note, as always the information provided is for educational and information purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use.
The content provided is not a replacement for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Don’t disregard or delay seeking medical advice because of information you have read here. Please check with your doctor before engaging in any new behaviour as recommended above. Depression can be rooted in deep seated beliefs or traumas that might need to be explored and worked through with a mental health professional.
Healthline,(2022), “Everything you need to know about serotonin.” https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin
Healthline, (2020), “7 foods that could boost your serotonin: The serotonin diet” https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/foods-that-could-boost-your-serotonin#food-and-mood
Johnson, J. “How long does a cup of coffee keep you awake”, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321784#sleep
National Health Service UK (NHS), NHS Overview Seasonal Affective Disorder