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Seasonal Depression: Getting Past Those ‘Winter Blues’

You’ve probably noticed that during the cold season, we tend to feel a little ‘blue.’ Compared to the summer months, when we tend to feel energetic and ‘alive,’ winter often makes us feel melancholic and lethargic. Experts call it ‘seasonal depression,’ an emotional condition marked by depression-like symptoms such as low mood, lack of motivation, […]

You’ve probably noticed that during the cold season, we tend to feel a little ‘blue.’ Compared to the summer months, when we tend to feel energetic and ‘alive,’ winter often makes us feel melancholic and lethargic.

Experts call it ‘seasonal depression,’ an emotional condition marked by depression-like symptoms such as low mood, lack of motivation, and a slight pinch of anhedonia.

But what is it about the cold season that makes us feel this way? And how can we manage this emotional state without having to wait for spring to arrive?  We’ve spoken with with Greg Redmond, Director at Counselling in Melbourne who provides some effective ways of getting past those winter blues.

What is seasonal depression?

Seasonal depression is a specific form of depression that’s part of a broader category which experts call ‘seasonal affective disorders.’

At first glance, this cluster of emotional disorders seems to be triggered by the ‘grim’ weather conditions that we must deal with during autumn and winter.

According to one study published in Depression Research and Treatment, the most vulnerable group is comprised of young females living far from the equator, and have family histories of bipolar disorder or depression.

But there’s more to seasonal depression than what meets the eye. Many experts believe this condition can be the sign of severe emotional disorders like major depression or bipolar disorder.

As for treatment options, some of you might have heard about light therapy (or heliotherapy). However, some experts believe there’s little evidence supporting the efficiency of this approach in managing seasonal depression.

Let’s start by understanding why we tend to get depressed during autumn and winter.

Why do we get depressed during the cold season?

Throughout our lives, each of us experiences moments of sadness and apathy. A tough divorce, the death of a loved one, financial instability and other similar factors can leave a serious mark on our mood.

But aside from these factors, depression can also be (partially) caused by cold temperatures, rainy days, and the absence of direct sunlight.

One possible explanation is vitamin D deficiency which studies indicate might be positively associated with depression. Since there’s barely any direct sunlight (our primary source of vitamin D) during the cold season, getting enough vitamin D can be problematic.

Another explanation would be the significantly lower activity level that we experience during the cold season. In other words, we tend to spend less time outsideand more time vegging in front of the TV.

But what most experts seem to agree upon is the fact that seasonal depressioncan signal a more profound emotional problem.

Before you freak out, keep in mind there’s a huge difference between feeling ‘blue’ and being clinically depressed and not every single person who experiences depression-like symptoms during winter suffers from severe mood disorders. Perhaps the best way to is by addressing a mental health professional.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to boost your mood during the cold season.

Four tips to manage the ‘winter blues’:

1. Get your daily dose of Vitamin D

As we saw earlier, one of the factors that contribute to seasonal depression is vitamin D deficiency.

If you wish to prevent this emotional problem, the simplest thing you can do is to make sure your body is getting enough vitamin D throughout the cold season.

Vitamin D can do wonders for the body. From preventing respiratory diseases to strengthening our immune system and keeping depression at bay, this vitamin is precisely what you need to make it through the season.

Add foods like salmon, herring, cod liver oil, mushrooms, egg yolks, beef liver, and cheese to your diet,and you’ll never have to worry about vitamin D deficiency.

If you live in an area where you get occasional sunny days during the cold season, make sure you spend at least one hour outside.

2. Go outside (even if you don’t feel like it)

Just because it’s cloudy and ‘gray’ outside doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself inside the house, under the blankets, binge-watching sitcoms all day.

Take a walk around the neighborhood; go to your local supermarket on foot; enjoy a nice stroll through the park.

Your body is not made to ‘hibernate’ on the couch,and your mind needs fresh air and a change of scenery in order to remain ‘fresh.’

Each season – even the cold one – has its own beauty and finding it will help you get past the cold temperature and long nights more easily.

3. Take a cold shower

Nothing gives you more energy than a cold shower to ‘wash off’ that feeling ofidleness specific to depression.

For centuries, people from different cultures have used cold swims and cold-water baths to strengthen their bodies and minds.

A recent post in The Guardianpresents the story of a 24-year-old woman who managed to get off meds and overcome depression through weekly swims in cold water.

This unusual treatment was prescribedby Doctor Christoffer van Tulleken, a researcher at University College London. He later published a study highlighting the benefits of cold-water swims in the treatment of depression.

Although it’s still early to declare cold-water swims a viable replacer for antidepressants, it’s worth giving it a shot. However, make sure to consult your physician before taking a cold bath or swim.

4. Hang out with your friends

Lastly, if you wish to avoid depressive episodes during the cold season, make sure to invest in an active social life.

Hang out with your friends and family members; ask a girl/boy you like out for coffee; go to the movies. In short, get involved in social activities that can put you in a good mood.

Instead of inviting others over to your house, go to a coffee shop or restaurant. That way, you ‘force’ yourself to get out more.

All and all, the secret to overcoming the ‘winter blues’ is staying active throughout the entire cold season. Also, keep in mind that seasonal depression can point towards more serious issues so if you feel like your overall mood is taking a turn for the worse, go see a professional a.s.a.p.

This article is for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioural problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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