Jasmine was normally happy and full of smiles, but every winter she felt down and she couldn’t explain why. She did not want to wake up in the morning, she wanted to overeat and she felt sad yet she didn’t know what to do about it. She didn’t change her routines or experience any traumas during winter. She even felt physically weaker! Jasmine’s friends told her to snap out of it and thought she was being overly dramatic.
Ever heard of the winter blues? This is more than a clever expression. Jasmine had a legitimate concern that people simply did not understand. Seasonal pattern specifier (previously called seasonal affective disorder) describes a specific type of depression, it typically begins near the beginning of winter and carries on until spring.
What Causes the Winter Blues
The winter blues are more than just a personality issue, it is a physiological reaction. We are exposed to less sunlight during the winter. Have you ever heard of astronauts undergoing light therapy, think about that. For sufferers of the winter blues, light exposure is one of the variables contributing to their concerns.
Our circadian rhythm aids us in our sleeping and waking cycle. It is like an automated machine that tells us when to feel alert and when to feel sleepy. If you have ever traveled overseas and experienced jetlag, that is your circadian rhythm being all wonky. A team of doctors studying the winter blues highlight that our circadian rhythm is a very common issue for those dealing with the winter blues.
Sufferers are also noted to have 5% higher levels of SERT, a protein transporter. The higher levels of SERT indicate a lower level of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with multiple functions, one of which is levels of happiness/depression. A decrease in serotonin is linked to depression. (I feel like my bio-psychology nerdy days are showing here )
“the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels”
People suffering from the winter blues tend to become more anti-social and overeat. Winter blues sufferers often crave carbs. (don’t worry, I love toast, this is not a carbs are evil post) They don’t crave carbs because they are delicious (which they are) they crave them because carbs=more insulin, more insulin=absorbing amino acids, which can in turn can help to spike serotonin. Unfortunately, the overeating can make us feel sluggish and only cause further issues.
So lets summarize that, the winter blues are not just because it is cold outside and they miss the beach, it has biological factors.
How to Treat the Winter Blues
The good news, it is treatable! Yay! Here are 8 ways to boost your mood when suffering from the winter blues.
- See a dietician. Our food choices impact our moods. All those carbs momentarily spike our blood sugar and make us smile, but what goes up must come down. Talking to a dietician can give you a better idea of what food choices can help keep your mood level and avoid the rollercoaster emotions.
- Light therapy. Open the blinds, get natural light flowing, turn on more lights and you can invest in a light therapy box.
- Exercise. Try to exercise for 10 minutes a day. It will boost your mood. (I won’t claim I always do this, but I will try inshallah )
- Decorate. Colors and our environment impact our moods. Change the colors around your home. Spiritual therapies often consider the colors in the room. Think about a spa, they don’t have dark walls or cluttered spaces. It is open and calming.
- Meditate/Pray. Take time for meditation and prayer when you feel you are struggling with your mood. Even 3 minutes of increased mindfulness and awareness of your faith/spiritual alignment can help.
- Religious services. Go to your local place of religious services, take time to walk around outside (light) and reflect on your spirituality while doing this. Two for one therapy, light and spirituality
- Create a devoted spiritual area. In your own home, designate a place for spiritual renewal. Go to this place to read books about your faith, to pray/meditate, place your light box near it.
- Walk. Go outside and walk, you will be getting light, exercise and fresh air. Be mindful of the nature around you, take it in and be grateful to God for this beauty.
Winter time is a season when the old is washed away and shortly after, renewal begins. It is a beautiful time of year when we think about it from that perspective. Not everyone who feels slightly down during the winter has this seasonal pattern specifier. It lasts for most of the winter, not just a day or two of sluggishness , and it impacts their quality of life. For those dealing with the winter blues, light therapy is the most common therapy. Combining light therapy with spiritual practices is a great way to boost our mood .
Have you or anyone you know ever suffered from the winter blues? Tell us about it below!