The Winter blues, more commonly known as seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a real thing.
While the exact cause of seasonal depression is unknown, there are factors that might contribute to it, including the levels of your happy hormones: serotonin and dopamine, as well as adrenaline.
The good news is that there are natural ways you can help prevent seasonal depression and boost these happy hormones through the winter months.
What are happy hormones?
Serotonin: Serotonin is your ‘feel good’ hormone, in charge of keeping you happy, confident and calm. It plays a huge role in your mood, sleep, appetite and body temperature.
Dopamine: Dopamine is your reward chemical, also known as the ‘motivation molecule’ that boosts your drive, focus and concentration.
Adrenaline: While the hormone adrenaline is not one of your ‘happy hormones’, it’s important because it is associated with energy and stress. If you have too much or too little adrenaline, it can lead to anxiety and nervousness, which impacts your mood. The key is having just the right amount.
Ways you can help prevent seasonal depression
Foods to prevent seasonal depression
Protein: Serotonin production depends on essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, and the building blocks for hormones. Foods high in these amino acids are meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, oats, chickpeas, bananas and chocolate.
Nutrients: You can get vitamin D from food sources like oily fish, liver, eggs, mushrooms and raw dairy. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in foods like eggs, nuts, raw milk, leafy green vegetables and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod. Vitamin C can also be found in foods like papaya, bell peppers, guava, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, oranges, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple and cantaloupe melon.
Gut-friendly foods: Include gut-friendly foods that are high in prebiotics, probiotics and fibre in your diet. These include live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, legumes, onions, garlic, and a variety of fruit and vegetables.
Supplements to prevent seasonal depression
Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a role in serotonin and dopamine production. While you can get vitamin D from sunshine, this is difficult in the winter months if you live in a country with colder weather, like the UK. Vitamin D absorption is also affected by sunscreen (which is important!) and spending lots of time indoors. In addition, if you’re vegan, it can be very difficult to get vitamin D from food.
Omega 3: Omega 3 fatty acids are also essential for serotonin production.
Vitamin C: In times of chronic stress or illness, taking vitamin C can help to support immunity and recovery. Vitamin C also supports energy production, therefore preventing fatigue which can lead to improved moods.
Probiotics: The majority of serotonin and about half of your dopamine is made in your gut. This means that the health of your gut microbiota influences the levels of your serotonin and dopamine production.
Due to things like cooking, storing and also production methods and pesticides, the quality and amount of vitamins and nutrients in food can be reduced. Taking supplements is a good way to help prevent seasonal depression by making sure you’re getting enough of certain nutrients.
Seasonal depression and lifestyle
Exercise to help prevent seasonal depression
Exercise has so many benefits and one of them is improved mood. This is because when you exercise, you release natural endorphins which leave you feeling great! At least 20 minutes of any-intensity exercise daily will give you the endorphins needed to help support your mood and motivation.
Getting some fresh air and being with nature is a great way to boost your mood and help prevent seasonal depression. Make the most of the lightest part of the day and take a stroll in your local park!
Maintain good quality sleep and sleep patterns
When your serotonin levels decrease, this can impact your sleep quality. When you aren’t sleeping well and your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it's more likely that your mood will be affected. Keeping in natural rhythm with daylight hours will help boost your serotonin levels, so try to stick to a consistent sleep and wake pattern, and expose yourself to natural daylight in the morning and during the day. Support good sleep quality, including switching off devices at least one hour before bed, doing some journaling, reading, meditation or running a bath.
Try and have fun!
Adopting a positive Winter mindset could help you prevent seasonal depression. Find fun activities that you can do indoors and outdoors to fill your days, like tackling some of those personal projects that you've always wanted to, reading more, studying, writing, calling friends and family, baking, etc.
Staying positive during the cold months of winter isn’t always easy, but shifting your mindset and thinking of it as an opportunity to re-energise, restore and indulge in some self-care can make it feel a lot more enjoyable and comforting. Don’t let the prospect of winter fill you with dread and discomfort, rather, embrace winter for what it's worth, do what makes you happy and enjoy the season.