Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. It’s a mood disorder characterized by depression, anxiety, irritability and low energy. In other words, it’s as if we were woken from a state of hibernation and don’t want to be awake yet! As the days become shorter, our bodies adjust by producing more melatonin and by slowing down our overall metabolism via decreased thyroid function. 1 In a traditional sense, this would have led to less energy needs, meaning we could survive the winter on less food. It was also the season when productivity would decrease and people would rest in preparation for the upcoming labour-intensive summer months. Today, we work through the winter, at a much faster pace than ever, and we become concerned when our bodies and minds can’t keep up. Fear not: it’s completely normal.
Luckily, there are plenty of things we can do to combat the “Winter Blues” and keep going, even if our bodies are suggesting it’s time to hibernate.
NOTE: This is an abbreviated version. Click HERE for the full article.
#1 - Get more Sunlight!
I don’t suggest walking outdoors in your bathing suit when it’s sub-0C. Instead, go for walks on a daily basis and ensure your face is exposed to the sun. The pineal gland, which sits behind your nose, is the master gland for controlling hormonal rhythms, and it being exposed to sunlight will make a big difference. If it’s warm enough, you can also expose your arms or other body parts to increase sun exposure and subsequent vitamin D production.
Caveat: Some believe that in northern climates, we never get enough vitamin D year round. 3 I don’t believe this, but do suspect when the sun is lower in the winter that it’s much harder to stimulate the vitamin D production in our skin. It, therefore, takes more time in the winter, meaning longer exposure to sunlight via outdoor activities or using a sunlamp regularly.
#2 - Get more Fresh Air!
Bundle up and go outside! Aim to get a minimum of 15-30 minutes per day outside. If you’re a dog owner, this won’t be hard. If not, either make yourself one or schedule in a few short walks per day.
#3 - Drink Enough Water!
Aim to drink between 1.5-3.0L per day. If you exercise regularly, drink an extra litre per hour of exercise to compensate for sweating. I also recommend setting a timer or using an app like Plant Nanny to remind you to drink small amounts frequently versus large amounts infrequently.
#4 - Supplement with Vitamin D or Cod Liver Oil!
Take 1 tsp of a well-reputed cod liver oil. That’s actually a hot topic these days as we try to figure out which is the best way to extra CLO. Currently, the trend seems to be leaning toward “Extra-Virgin” CLO made by a Norwegian company Rosita, which uses an old extraction method that prevents the breakdown of highly sensitive essential fatty acids. Prior to Rosita’s surge in popularity, it was blue ice fermented CLO that was considered the gold standard. Another more commonly accessible brand is Carlson. Although it may not be considered the absolute ideal form, I’ve seen it have positive clinical results, so I often recommend it for affordability’s sake.
If taking a vitamin D supplement, aim for 1,000IU per day. Note that you won’t likely feel a change overnight, but you should feel a difference after a few weeks of regular supplementation.
#6 - Get Moving!
I prefer that people move regularly versus exercising intensely only a few times a week. There are benefits to changing how you move (cardio vs strength vs high-intensity), but it doesn’t mean you have to have an extensive workout every day. Simply make sure you move more frequently every day to get your blood flowing. Take regular breaks from sitting, walk the stairs, park further from entrances, go for walks...the ways to get movement are endless!
#7 - Maintain Stable Blood Sugar!
It’s critical that you consume healthy proteins and fats with every major meal. Carbohydrates are equally important, but not usually hard to get, so focus on the other two. Also, ensure you consume vegetables at every meal, consume sufficient fibre, and minimize processed foods. You can also have small balanced snacks between meals like a handful of nuts/seeds, fruit with nut butter, or vegetables with hummus. Doing this will result in more stable energy and mood, less hunger, and fewer related symptoms like headaches or an upset digestive tract. It also staves off more serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
#8 - Get Out There and Socialize!
Aim to socialize with family or friends at least 1-2 times per week. Support one another with the above strategies; it will make the winter even better. Ideal would be to socialize in an outdoor setting or in the presence of a well-balanced meal. It doesn’t take anything extreme, but knowing you have that connection waiting is also often motivation enough to get people going.
#9 - Practice Stress Management Techniques! This one if often challenging for people because they don’t know where to start. My simple answer: DO LESS. The more time you can find to relax and clear your thoughts, the more you’re practicing mindfulness. More formal activities would include meditation, yoga, mindful exercise (movement in silence), silent nature walks, regular quiet breaks throughout the day, tai chi, qi gong, martial arts, playing music, partaking in a creative activity….the list is endless. The point is, you have to disconnect from the everyday stresses of life. Again, if we choose to push through our natural rhythms to slow down, we have to compensate by doing a little less to meet our bodies half way.
#10 - If All Else Fails, Take a Vacation!
One excellent and often exciting method is to book a last minute trip with trip wholesalers looking to fill remaining seats. Not knowing where you’re going until the last minute can be exciting for some, but stressful for others. Another option is to seek out cheap flights and rent a house in a warm country. You can then prepare your own food, which you will often find at local farmers’ markets or road-side food stands, depending
where you go. It doesn’t have to be fancy, so long as you can get a little closer to the equator and get some sun exposure on your skin.
Our bodies are built to slow down and “hibernate” in the winter. It’s the only way they would have recouped from the prior year’s labour and prepared for the upcoming year’s work seasons. Today, we don’t typically maintain seasonal work and instead work through the winter. This puts our bodies into a state of stress, especially when deprived of the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D.
By following these simple strategies and maintaining good overall health, you help prevent or overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder. Do note that you won’t likely feel a shift overnight when implementing these changes, but within a few weeks, you should feel like yourself again. If you’ve got good strategies in place and you’re still finding you have a mid-winter slump, plan a regular holiday where you can reset your Vitamin D stores and have the energy you need to push through the rest of the “Dark Months”.