Winter Blues

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition that affects many of us throughout the winter months. It can also be referred to as winter depression or seasonal depression, but here at e-Surgery, we like to call it ‘winter blues’ as it’s a little less negative, or is it just us?   

The clocks have gone back, and we’ve already enjoyed that extra hour in bed (sadly for only one night), but the dark mornings and dark evenings are in full effect. It’s pretty normal for people to feel low during these months, even though they’re filled with exciting occasions such as bonfire night, Christmas and New Year’s! We know, who can feel low during Christmas?! Well, there’s actually a scientific reason the majority of us will all take a dip in our mood and mental well-being.   

Throughout this article, we’re going to delve inside our brains and discover the reasons why we’re more prone to poor mental health during the coldest months of the year, what the symptoms are to look out for, and what we can do to avoid SAD from developing.    

 

What are the Causes & Triggers? 

There is not one direct cause of winter blues, and doctors have struggled to pinpoint why it is exactly people feel low or depressed during the winter months. It’s widely accepted that the change in weather and daylight cycle are the main factors that are effective our mental health, which is kind of a given!  

SAD causes and triggers include:  

 

  • Lack of sunlight – shorter days means that there’s less natural sunlight, which can disrupt our circadian rhythms, massively confusing our bodies natural body-clock.   

 

  • Melatonin Imbalance – When it’s nighttime our body naturally produces melanin, which is the hormone that is released while sleeping. When the weathers dark earlier it can make us feel tired, which can make us feel low during the day.  The winter blues is usually known to be directly caused by imbalances in hormones, 

 

  • Serotonin deficiency – Sunlight makes our body produce serotonin, so when the sun isn’t out throughout the day, our bodies aren’t getting a healthy amount of serotonin released, which helps improve mood, happiness and overall wellbeing.  

 

  • Cold Temperatures – Cold weather can make people feel unhappy, especially in those who are elderly or vulnerable to the snow, rain or freezing temperatures. Who’s really that happy when it’s chucking it down?  

 

  • Vitamin D Deficiency – The winter blues can be down to a lack of sunlight, which means a lack of vitamin D, which is the main major benefit to being exposed to natural light.  

 

Winter blues

 

The Symptoms of Winter Blues  

 

As with any condition, knowing what the symptoms are puts us in the best position possible to diagnose what the issue is, and know what to do to overcome it in the shortest time possible. We’re going to go through each section 

 

Low Mood 

Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to encourage negative thoughts and feelings of depression. So, during the winter months, people often have low mood because of the dark mornings and evenings.   

 

Fatigue & Lack of Energy 

People can often feel run down, tired and sluggish no matter how much sleep they might be getting. Their bodies feeling fatigued yet they’re getting all the rest they usually do. Our energy can be low due to the lack of serotonin and Vitamin D that we get from sunlight.  

 

Difficulty Concentrating  

Concentration levels can be affected making our ability to work efficiently hindered. This can also make daily activities like driving, more difficult which can increase the chances of an accident occurring.  

 

Isolation  

People suffering from winter blues can often isolate themselves from social activities, avoiding making plans with their friends or even backing out of arrangements. Sadly, lack of socialisation can negatively affect us and can lead to more depressive thoughts. We are social creatures after all!     

 

Overeating or Weight Gain  

We can have cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and sugars, which can cause low mood, fatigue and depressive thoughts. It can also lead to increased weight gain making our mental and physical health suffer as a result. Often our eating habits can be a sign of depressive disorders such as seasonal affective disorder.  

 

Irritable  

Lack of sunlight and cold temperatures can affect their personality by making them highly irritable. This then creates a low mood and can encourage the person to become isolated, through personal choice and by others who wouldn’t want to be around them while they’re in a negative mood.   

 

Increased Sleep 

People who suffer with winter blues are known to sleep longer and sleep throughout the day. This can often be because it’s used as relief from the negative experience that daily life has recently become. The dark evenings can make people feel tired earlier too, as well as the cold temperatures making a lot of us want to bed into bed to warm up.    

 

Winter Blues

 

How to Prevent Winter Blues 

 

We can do lots of things to prevent developing winter blues way before they have the chance of affecting us. Here at e-Surgery, we believe we all need our own plan of action to protect our mental well-being during the winter months. So, get your calendars out and get planning well ahead of time!   

 

Plan for the Winter Months 

Book activities with your friends and family in advance, making you have things to look forward to, as well as forcing you to not let people down when it comes to the time of the event. Book food with friends, cinema trips or date nights so that when the cold dark months come, you won’t feel that you have to stay inside every evening.   

 

Create a Daily Routine  

Having a daily routine or schedule creates structure and helps you have a plan to get things done that can avoid falling into a rut, which is easy to do if there is no plan place across the day or week. You can write your plans in a calendar on your wall or use an online one that can be seen by your family and friends. Creating a daily routine can be a fantastic way of avoiding the winter blues. 

 

Morning sunlight exposure  

Even though it’s likely to be fairly dark out, make sure to get outside and go on a walk as soon as the sun comes up. Doing so can improve your mood for the rest of the day, by being exposed to natural sunlight and getting your body moving. Make sure to try to leave your phone at home too, it can help detox from technology! 

 

Exercise Regularly  

Whether it’s a morning walk or an evening gym session, exercise has been proven to help increase dopamine and serotonin and boost our mood naturally. Nobody has to feel pressured or self-conscious, so you can easily do an exercise routine at home, as long as you incorporate some exercise into your day.    

 

Eat a Healthy & Nutritious Diet  

Our diets can play a huge role in our mental wellbeing, not just our physical health. We know it can be hard not to snack on chocolate and other treats around the festive period, but they can play a significant part in the development of seasonal associative disorder or winter blues. Make sure you’re eating nutritious and high-quality foods, as they contain the vitamins that can fight against depressive spells.  

 

Maintain a Consistent Sleeping Pattern  

Sleeping patterns can be hugely affected during the winter, when our sleeping is disordered, it can often be a contributing factor to the development of depression and other mental health conditions. Make sure you’re getting good quality sleep for at least 8 hours to help ease depression or depressive thoughts.  

 

Set Personal Goals  

Use the coming months as a time to focus and set personal development goals for yourself. This can counteract the effects of winter blues and push you through by making your life situation even better than what it would be if you had to struggle through these months. This could be fitness, business or hobby-related, as long as it’s something you are passionate about and that pushes you in a positive direction!   

 

Winter Blues

 

Can Winter Blues Damage Our Physical Health? 

 

Although the winter blues is viewed a mental health issue, suffering with the condition can have serious long-term effects on our health if left to spiral out of control. The mind and body are intrinsically linked and can often affect one another. Negative thoughts and behaviour can encourage the development of many health issues, hence why it’s so important to stay on top of our mental state and remain in control of the direct of our lives.  

These are the health issues that the winter blues can affect:   

 

  • Weakened Immune System – Suffering with winter blues can put us as greater risk of catching cold or flu, as well as putting us at greater risk of developing a multitude of other health conditions that the immune system usually fights against.  

 

  • Cardiovascular Problems – Having SAD can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure which then increases risk of it causing heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions.  

 

  • Loss of Bone Mass – The vitamin D deficiency associated with SAD can contribute to osteoporosis and loss of bone density over time. This also raises risks of fractures in the future.  

 

  • Increased Inflammation – Depression is linked to higher inflammation levels in the body, which may increase risks for chronic conditions like heart disease.  

 

  • Weight Gain – The winter blues can increase your appetite and cravings for sugary/starchy foods may lead to significant weight gain over time. Obesity raises the risk for other issues like heart disease and diabetes. You can combat this by having a healthier diet, exercising regularly and by taking weight loss medication.  

 

 Ask a Pharmacist  

e-Surgery offers a free-to-use ‘Ask-a-Pharmacist’ service, that puts you in direct contact with one of our medical professionals who can offer advice on any of your minor health concerns. We believe that professional advice should be accessible for everyone, so our service can be used on your phone or laptop, from the comfort of your own home. Make sure to use the service, no matter how small the issue may seem to you, even if you have winter blues or similar conditions. The peace of mind that comes with speaking to someone can do wonders for your mental well-being, so make the most of it.   

  

Hopefully, by this point, you are a walking encyclopaedia of all things seasonal affective disorder and can put the preventative measures in place in your life to avoid  developing winter blues. You might also be in a good position to spot the warning signs of SAD in others and help support them in coming out the other side. If you found this article valuable, we have over 100 more available in our ‘Health Hub’ covering a wide range of health and wellbeing topics. Make sure to head over to discover the ways you can improve your health!