I love the seasons, but gray and white don’t speak light and life to me. They whisper dreary, dull, dead, and sad. The long march of endless days of cold only serves to sharpen the edges of the bleak and colorless winter. I get a little depressed and wonder how to fight winter blues effectively.
Winter blues creep in slowly
One week last winter, 10 inches (26cm) of snow fell over the course of one day. For some, it meant loads of fun. It brought snow forts and snowmen, sledding, skiing, and snowboarding. For others, it brought a great deal of hard labor and even less mobility than usual. The sunlight reflecting off the snow was beautiful, but also blinding. And, it kept many people indoors, complaining, sleeping, and binge watching favorite movies.
First, recognize that it’s winter blues
Pretty soon, we feel tired a lot, sleep a lot, and eat a lot. Sometimes, the complaining turns darker and we snap at people without provocation. We make excuses to stay home and dismiss hobbies that we enjoy. Sometimes, we curl up in bed and cry for no reason. Does this sound like you? Maybe you don’t feel that bad, but you feel that winter certainly affects you. It especially affects all of us in the northern climes. Our natural tendency is to blame the lack of sunlight and indeed, light does have something to do with it. But, it’s more than that. In order to discover how to fight winter blues effectively, we need to acknowledge that we have the blues. Ask yourself:
- When did I first start feeling this way?
- Have I lost joy in my usual activities?
- Am I sleeping a lot and lack energy?
- Do I cry more easily now than I did a few months ago?
- Does my family avoid me because I snap at them for trivial reasons?
If the onset of symptoms came before winter, worsen, and don’t clear up as spring approaches, seek proper medical advice. Winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder, diminishes with the onset of spring and with some of the helps described below. Depression, on the other hand, is not seasonal.
Possible reasons for winter blues
Theories abound about reasons for winter blues. Most of them center on physiological reasons. The argument goes like this: since there’s less sunlight, your internal circadian rhythm goes haywire; the balance of melatonin and serotonin is thrown off by the decrease in sunlight; this imbalance makes you feel depressed, causes weight gain, and makes you excessively sleepy. But, truthfully, no one knows why people suffer from winter blues and why some people are more vulnerable than others.
How to fight winter blues
With light and vitamin D
Some people find relief from the blues through exposure to light from special sunlight lamps. These boxes mimic sunlight, but without the harmful ultraviolet rays. You could also simply get outside as much as possible during the cold months, even if only for twenty minutes at a time. I know, easier said than done, especially when we have to put on so many clothes or own expensive special equipment to make it fun. (Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding come to mind.)
Maybe the correlation between lack of sunlight and low serotonin levels is due to the fact that you can’t make serotonin without adequate levels of vitamin D. And, serotonin is the feel good, feel calm neurotransmitter. However, vitamin D supplementation alone may not lift your spirits. It is a good starting place, though. You could also try cod liver oil supplementation. Earthley has a vitamin D cream that you can just rub on and it includes vitamins A and E as well.
You may also need extra tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid, or protein, needed to produce serotonin. So, you need both vitamin D and tryptophan. Where do you get tryptophan? You get it from: meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and nuts and seeds. These are the best sources, but you can also get some from vegetables. Vegetable sources include almost all leafy greens, including the tops of parsnips and beets; mushrooms; asparagus; cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage); dried beans; squashes (including summer squash); fresh beans and peas; and the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers).
Interesting how many of the vegetables that are highest in tryptophan grow in cooler weather. . . . (eating what God provides for us in each season and climate sure helps!) But, many people still feel blue even though they eat healthy. Maybe it’s genetics. Maybe it’s a gut biome imbalance. Possibly neither. Instead, maybe it’s . . .
Since our health is wholistic–mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual–we can do all sorts of things on a physical level, but still not see any change. We need to address the other areas, too. If we really want relief from the winter blues, we need to stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop believing the worst. Recent studies suggest that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) provides the most long-lasting relief of symptoms of winter blues (otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder). Essentially, this psychotherapy technique helps patients identify and change negative thought patterns to positive ones. It has been shown to be more effective long-term because it provides more permanent changes and doesn’t rely on people remembering to turn on a sun lamp.
But, we don’t need a therapist to tell us about the effects of our thoughts and beliefs. The Bible tells us to guard our thoughts, focus on the good and noble, and renew our minds. Here is a list of verses to help you.
- Romans 12:2
- Philippians 4:8
- Proverbs 4:23
- Ephesians 4:22-32 (we need to apply this to what we say to ourselves as well as how we treat other believers.)
- Matthew 15:11
- 2 Corinth. 10:5
- Colossians 3:2
If we focus on friendship, family, and faith, we grow strong in resisting negativity. We equip ourselves with spiritual tools to combat winter blues.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to add in some light, good food or vitamins, and maybe some herbal supplements. But, if we persist in clinging to bad attitudes, these other measures probably won’t help.
Sometimes winter blues underline an underlying deficit that has deeper implications, such as sleep disturbances, stress, isolation, and more. It may be time to see a professional.