Hacking Seasonal Depression: How to Stay Positive and Motivated This Winter
There is so much to look forward to about wintertime – cosy nights by the fire, hot cocoa, winter fashion, and Christmas markets. Unfortunately, the short days and gloomy weather mean many people feel tired, unmotivated, uninspired, and depressed.
If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder – also known as the winter blues.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that develops due to a lack of natural light1. The short winter days and seemingly endless nights can make you feel sad and lethargic. Other symptoms include anxiety, excessive sleeping, and loss of motivation.
The reduction in daylight hours throws your circadian rhythm – body clock – out of balance2. You produce more of the sleep hormone melatonin in response to darkness and less of the "happy" hormone serotonin and endorphins. Plus, spending all your time indoors prevents your body from producing vitamin D – the "sunshine vitamin."
Lifestyle Tips to Hack Seasonal Depression
At Pure Health, we've compiled 6 lifestyle "hacks" to help you balance your body clock and banish the winter blues for good.
1. Get Light in Different Ways
It's crucial to get as much natural light exposure as possible during winter. Open the curtains and blinds in your home and office during the day and sit near a window. When the weather permits, bundle up and go for a walk outside to enjoy the sunlight.
You can also simulate natural sunlight using a light box to rebalance your circadian rhythm – even on the darkest days. This tricks your brain into suppressing melatonin and stimulating the production of serotonin.
Experts recommend using a light box for 30 minutes as soon as you wake up to reset your body clock and increase productivity, alertness, and energy.
- Supplement with Vitamin D
If you live in a cold climate that gets minimal sun in winter, you need a vitamin D3 supplement – there's no way around it. This nutrient is essential for a balanced mood, but levels rapidly decline due to the lack of sunlight in winter3.
At Pure Health, we designed a bioactive liposomal Vitamin D3 + K2 supplement. These nutrients work synergistically to help you achieve healthy vitamin D levels and protect you against seasonal depression.
You can also get more vitamin D-rich foods in your diet – like fatty fish, dairy products, organ meats, eggs, and mushrooms.
3. Don't Ban Carbs
Did you know that going low carb during winter may make you more likely to experience SAD?
Tryptophan is an amino acid crucial for serotonin synthesis, found in turkey, chicken, beef, and fish. It produces a serotonin precursor called 5-hydroxytryptophan, and diets high in tryptophan have shown benefits for seasonal depression4. However, eating carbohydrates along with tryptophan-rich foods helps with absorption5.
Try consuming more complex carbohydrates along with protein, such as:
- Root vegetables like sweet potatoes
- Brown rice and other whole grains
These foods encourage the movement of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier.
4. Get Moving
You've probably heard it a million times before, but regular physical activity is the best mental health "hack" around. Just 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise daily can boost your production of serotonin and endorphins, improving your mood and energy levels.
When the weather clears up, try to get outdoors for a walk, jog, or cycle. Otherwise, do some yoga, strength training, or aerobic exercise indoors. The most important thing is to pick a type of exercise you enjoy – this ensures you're more likely to maintain the habit. Plus, it gives you a reason to get up when the winter blues feel all-encompassing.
5. Connect with Others
Social isolation is a huge problem among people with seasonal depression. And living through a global pandemic has only made this worse. Isolation feeds into feelings of depression and despair because human beings crave connection.
Make an effort to connect with others whenever possible. Plan a coffee date with a friend or go for a walk with a family member. Even a Zoom call with a friend can make a big difference to your mood.
6. Try Cold Exposure
Cold exposure during the freezing winter months sounds crazy. But hear us out.
Research suggests that exposing yourself to the cold – cold showers, ice baths, or swimming in the ocean – can boost endorphins and enhance your mood6. It's also incredibly refreshing and energising.
We suggest starting slowly by ending your shower with 30 seconds of cold exposure. You can gradually build up your tolerance until you can take a 3 minute cold shower. It could change your life!
We're confident the tips in this article will bring you relief during the long winter months, helping you feel joy instead of dread.
Take note: If seasonal depression worsens or persists despite making lifestyle changes, please seek professional support.