At this time of year, when the pre-New Year hustle and bustle and the holidays are over you need to go to work and get back on track. However, many people feel tired and depressed. Do you feel drained too? Here are ways to overcome that.
Winter depression symptoms
Apathy, sleepiness and inability to concentrate, all these symptoms often occur in autumn and winter.
The scientific term for that is seasonal affective disorder or SAD. It also has a more poetic name, winter blues. It is a form of winter depression and it peaks in January and February. It is much rarer in spring and summer.
- Apathy, the feeling of sadness
- Sleepiness or insomnia
- Low sex drive
- Lack of energy
- Increased appetite for unhealthy or high-sugar foods.
- Lack of concentration, inability to focus
- Low productivity Working harder produces poorer results
- Tearfulness and the feeling of loneliness
Why do we feel depressed and exhausted in winter?
1. Lack of serotonin
One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is lack of serotonin, the happy hormone. Its production is stimulated by physical activity and sunlight. In winter, we are less active and the days are shorter.
In January, when you commute to work it’s still dark and when you return home it’s already dark. Decreased serotonin production causes anxiety, apathy and depression.
2. Body clock failure
Light and darkness impact our mood and behaviour by affecting the circadian rhythm or the body clock Less sunlight means more melatonin, the sleep hormone. It controls when we fall asleep and wake up.
When there isn’t enough light in the morning and afternoon melatonin makes us sleepy and tired and we wake up harder. In addition to that lack of serotonin impedes melatonine production which can cause insomnia.
3. Legacy of our ancestors
Many species of animals are less active during winter time. There is less food and sunlight and it is harder to survive in cold weather. People used to adapt to these circumstances too. So the desire to “hibernate” and eat more high-fat foods to “fatten up” comes from our ancestors.
How to beat the desire to hibernate
Few can afford to bundle up in a cozy blanket gorging on cinnamon rolls until March. And such anabiosis only intensifies depression. We’ll do it differently!
Sleep: you can have more
In winter, it is recommended to sleep 30-60 minutes longer. Sleep for 8-9 hours a day, it will recover your body.
If you can’t make yourself go to bed early, set an alarm in the evening. It will notify you one or two hours before going to bed, which will prepare you for sleep.
To tune your body clock you need to wake up at the same time every day, even at the weekend. The body will get used to the new schedule and you will start waking up refreshed.
What to do with insomnia
Switch off your devices and stop working two hours before going to bed. Blue screen light makes it harder to fall sleep and having many thoughts increases stress and tension. You can also install Flux, it darkens the screen on your smartphone or computer in the evening. It’s a very simple life hack.
Best would be reading a book, or doing something creative like drawing, knitting, embroidery or building construction sets or plastic models. You will reduce stress and take your mind off things.
Drinking alcohol to fall asleep faster is a really bad idea, it messes up your sleep. Sleeping after having a drink does not recover your body and you will be more stressed in the morning.
Diet: more energy and happiness
We often want something sweet in winter, sugar means energy. However, it leads to a surge of energy followed by intensified fatigue. It’s better to substitute complex carbohydrates and protein for sweets, you will feel energized for a longer period of time. Fats and omega-3 are important too. Those who take omega-3 are 30% less likely to have depression.
Products which increase serotonin production:
- bananas, fruit
- omega-3 (fatty fish, eggs, cod liver oil or food supplements)
- complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, brown or unprocessed rice, whole-grain pasta), check here the list of healthy grains.
- vitamin B complex and folic acid
The indispensable vitamin D
Our body produces vitamin D from sunlight (ultraviolet) and its production decreases in winter.
Vitamin D is very important, it boosts our mood, fights depression, strengthens the immune system and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Its lack decreases cognition and the ability to concentrate and makes us less resistant to respiratory infections. Besides, lack of vitamin D is a cause of weight gain. It is necessary for leptin production which is responsible for feeling full. We simply overeat and don’t notice it.
The adequate level of the vitamin for a healthy adult is 600 IE a day. Up to 10 000 IE a day is considered safe.
How to make up for the lack of vitamin D
- Get it with food. For example, 100 grams of salmon or other oily fish contain 200-400 IE.
- Spend 30 minutes a day outside. Even on a most gloomy day it is lighter than 1000 lux outside (which is more than in an office).
- Indoor tanning for 5 minutes a week. However, the amount of vitamin D doesn’t increase much, because it’s mostly ultraviolet A, whereas the body needs ultraviolet B to produce vitamin D. The amount of B rays is written on UVB lamps , it can vary from 0.1% up to 6% (up to 4% in Russia).
- Take food supplements, the dose should be at least 600 IE, but it can be higher.
You can’t run away from sports
Physical activity increases the amount of serotonin, fights apathy and improves thinking skills and concentrate. Two 45-minute training sessions a week is enough. If you find it hard to do sports, use any opportunity to limber up: doing a short exercise or a plank for a minute, dancing or having a walk is better than nothing.
Sex. Or at least cuddle!
Sex drive is lower during winter depression, so intimacy and hugs are very important, they make us happier and stimulate the production of a whole cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters As well as serotonin and oxytocin.
Sex makes you more productive, strengthens the immune system and even improves your memory, we have already posted about that.
An hour a day to yourself
In order to recover you need to get your mind off work and chores. Do something that you want, rather than have to. Read a book, have a bath, get a massage (reduces stress really well, by the way).
Turn off the constant information flow during that time, simply have some time:
- without social networks
- calls and texts
- away from your colleagues and clients
- and children (at least for half an hour)
Measure your energy and stress levels with Welltory every morning, this will help you notice when you start feeling unwell and take necessary measures.
Things that reduce stress:
- yoga relaxation techniques like yoga nidra or shavasana
Let there be light
Install “smart” or simply bright (1500-2000 lx) white light bulbs at home. There are special lamps for light therapy, which are 2500-10000 lx bright.
A smart alarm clock with sunrise imitation can help you wake up relaxed and in a good mood, for example, Philips Wake-up Light.
It’s time to take a vacation
It’s an obvious piece of advice. And an annoying one if you don’t have the opportunity. But if you regularly experience depression in winter, plan your trip in advance, the sun, palm trees and sand will help. You can’t? Do something active at the weekend: walking, indoor skydiving, serfing or karting.
And remember, depression will soon end
As early as March solar activity increases and life will be more fun. Meanwhile these simple tips can help:
- Sleep for 8-9 hours and wake up at the same time every day
- Take vitamin D, vitamin B complex, folic acid and omega-3
- Eat complex carbs (rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread and pasta) and protein.
- More light: bright white light lamps, indoor tanning for 5 minutes a week and 30-minute afternoon walks
- Any physical activity
- Sex and cuddles
- Anti-stress: An hour a day to yourself, massage, yoga, sports, hobbies, meditation
- At least a short vacation or a weekend trip somewhere new
Oh, and keep track of your energy and stress levels. It’s fun! If you get a massage, draw in the evening and get a good night’s sleep, you’ll notice how your wellbeing indices change.