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5 Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

So the winter is rolling on in, and before you know it Christmas will be here. Who feels like they get the winter blues? I know I do…

Winter blues are pretty common. Some people feel like once their summer holidays are over that that’s it until next year—roll on the chocolate and wine. Others feel down once the Christmas tree is out on the kerb, and it’s just terrible weather after terrible weather until the spring.

Feeling down when the nights start to draw in and once the party season is out of the way is a common experience. You feel blah, you eat more chocolate and drink more wine, but you still manage to function. But by contrast, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is more serious.

More often than not, a SAD sufferer feels like a hibernating bear who’s been disturbed—grouchy, lethargic, and exhausted. Sufferers might also feel sad, guilty, hopeless, pessimistic, unmotivated, and self-critical. But unlike non-season depression, SAD has several other symptoms, including a craving for carbs, resulting in weight gain, and oversleeping. And also, unlike ‘typical’ depression, SAD lifts once warmer weather returns.

SAD affects about 1–5% of people under 50, but that figure increases the further north you go: in Alaska, numbers can top 10%. Women in their childbearing years are also disproportionally more likely to be affected, with a staggering 4:1 ratio of women to men overall.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

No one is entirely sure, but the shorter daylight hours of winter seem to be the main cause of SAD.

Light is the pacemaker to our pacemaker, as it cues our circadian rhythms (our internal body clock). Shorter daylight hours, ultimately, can trigger an array of problems. Our out-of-whack circadian rhythms trigger associated neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin and melatonin. This in turn throws off our appetite, our sleep pattern, and our mood.  Additional factors like climate, genetics, and even the sensitivity of your retinas can all combine to create the perfect (winter) storm for SAD.

As for those carb cravings, they’re your body’s attempt to boost serotonin. Serotonin release can be triggered by high-carbohydrate foods—as anyone who has ever reached for a donut to soothe a bad mood will doubtless have found. (Not that that is a phenomenon unique to SAD of course. Just ask anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking, had PMS, or battled emotional eating.)

So what can you do to beat winter blues and SAD? Well, instead of curling up in a foetal position with a stack of donuts and a bar of chocolate by your side, try my 5 tips for beating the winter blues.

CK Elite’s tips for beating the winter blues

Tip 1: See the light

Tip 1: see the light

Serotonin production in the brain is related to light. The neurotransmitter is pumped out more quickly as the days get longer and brighter. The same is true of melatonin, the sleep hormone, which is likewise regulated by light.

Sometimes getting some winter sunshine may be enough to shake off the winter blues—but just standing indoors seeing light through a closed window isn’t sufficient. Try a brisk walk around the block with your dog, or a trek (rather than a drive) to your normal coffee shop during the bright, midday work hours to soak up some extra sunshine.

Tip 2: Exercise

A number of studies tout the benefits of exercise on mood. How exercise might work in the context of SAD isn’t exactly clear, but some studies suggest that exercise somehow increases your sensitivity to light. This can help restore those upset circadian rhythms. Others claim it might jump-start the ‘circadian pacemaker’, a cluster of neurons in the brain’s pineal gland.  Either way, a good workout may help restore your good mood—despite any impending snowpocalypse…

Why not try out the CK Elite easy core work out for beginners to get you started?

Tip 3: Drink coffee

Winter Blues Coffee

An enormous study that tracked 51,000 American women for 24 years discovered, among many other things, that as coffee consumption rose, the risk of depression dropped. Women who drank the most coffee, namely 4 or more cups a day, had the lowest risk of depression. The researchers were careful to point out that the research was too preliminary to start recommending caffeine as a solution to depression, but in the dead of winter the stimulation (and warmth!) of a good latte can’t be a bad thing!

Tip 4: Wash your hands

This might seem an odd way to improve your mood, but the fact is that you’re more susceptible to depressive symptoms after a viral illness. So hand washing—alongside your regular flu shot, of course—is a simple but effective method of avoiding a winter bug.

Tip 5: Socialise

Friends socialising in the snow

Social support is one of the best buffers to all kinds of mood problems. But as everyone knows, when you have the winter blues, the last thing you feel like doing is hanging out. Instead, you just want to curl up on the sofa, under layer after layer of jumpers and blankets, to see out the winter. So if that’s the case, then just have your friends come to you!

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