Darker Days Are Coming. Don’t Let Them Get You Down.


Changes in your diet, morning rituals and the Danish approach to creating a warm atmosphere can help combat the winter blues, say doctors and therapists.

For people dreading the approach of shorter days and fewer hours of sunlight, now is the time to prepare your body to fend off the winter blues.

Many of us notice a natural turndown in mood as the brain responds to less daylight in the winter, especially in the northern part of the country, says Kelly Rohan, professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, who researches seasonal affective disorder. You might have a dip in energy levels, want to sleep more or crave more carbohydrate-heavy foods, she says.

To better deal with the colder months, doctors recommend general self-care strategies including exercise, eating nourishing foods and spending time outdoors. Light therapy can also help alleviate symptoms, they say. About 5% of Americans are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, which may warrant therapy or antidepressants, doctors say.

Wendy Jeanes, a sales consultant in Chicago, used to plan a beach vacation to beat the winter blues. But last winter, she says she leaned into the cold instead of escaping it. Attending a retreat called Wintering Well at a snowy resort overlooking Lake Superior left her with new strategies of “not fighting winter,” she says.

“You just go to bed earlier and take better care of yourself,” says Ms. Jeanes, 51.

Mood-boosting foods

Good Food

Good food

Taking stock of what you eat during the winter months makes it easier to stay nourished with essential mood-boosting vitamins and to avoid weight gain, says Ronald Stram, founder of the Stram Center for Integrative Medicine, a functional medicine practice in Albany, N.Y.

Eating tryptophan-rich foods, including fish, eggs and spinach, can boost your mood because tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin production, which work to regulate mood. Because of a reduced ability to make vitamin D in the winter, people also should consider taking vitamin D supplements, Dr. Stram says.

A diet rich in B vitamins, including Brussels sprouts, chickpeas and green leafy vegetables, has also been shown to reduce anxiety, he adds. He recommends handling cravings for sweets by pairing them with protein and healthy fat to limit sugar spikes—a piece of dark chocolate with almond butter, for instance. “Don’t deny yourself,” he says.

The benefits of rituals



Creating a ritual to boost your mood in the colder months is key, says Alice Shepard, a New York-based therapist available on Sesame, a telehealth platform where patients pay providers directly. A common self-care suggestion that also pops up for battling seasonal depression is journaling. Dr. Shepard says that starting the day by writing in a journal can help you focus on happier moments and head off more depressing moods.

Sleeping more is normal during the winter months and is OK as long as you wake up feeling rested and refreshed, says Dr. Stram.

Get outside as early as possible once the sun comes up, recommends Heidi Zimmer, a wellness instructor and founder of the Wild Rice Retreat in Bayfield, Wis. Ms. Zimmer makes sure to take a brisk walk each morning while taking slow deep breaths, no matter the weather. Guests at her resort are encouraged to combine a hot sauna with time going out into the snow.

“It’s fun and it improves your circulation,” says Ms. Zimmer who hosts the Wintering Well workshop attended by Ms. Jeanes, and suggests people try their own version of hot-cold therapy at home.

Learn from the Danes

Try embracing the season like some of the Nordic countries, including Denmark, says Marie Helweg-Larsen, a psychology professor at Dickinson College. A Denmark native, she has written about concepts including hygge and says they can help boost your mood during the winter months.

While many associate hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) with being cozy, she says it is more about setting up a warm atmosphere for spending meaningful time with those close to you.

“Danes think of it more broadly, which is setting the stage for cozy or intimate interactions,” she says.

When to seek help

People who suddenly have a difficult time completing work tasks, struggle to get out of bed or start to avoid spending time with friends may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder. It is a form of major depression triggered by seasonal changes that may require professional help, according to doctors.

Roughly 5% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, while another 15% may experience at least one mood-related change during the winter, according to Dr. Rohan. “Most people have some symptoms, but it’s about how many, how severe and how impairing they are,” she says.

Generally, daylight-mimicking lamps, antidepressants and cognitive behavior therapy, a type of psychotherapy that helps clients examine the relationship between their thoughts and behavior, are the go-to therapy modes for seasonal affective disorder, she says.

Light therapy

light therapy

Light therapy

When using light therapy, choose a lamp that delivers 10,000 lux, a measurement unit of how much light falls in a certain area, says Paul Desan, director of the Winter Depression Research Clinic at Yale School of Medicine based in New Haven, Conn. Using it before 8 a.m. for at least 30 minutes is known to be effective at combating seasonal depression for many people, says Dr. Desan.

The light has a therapeutic effect on the body’s internal clock, making people less prone to the impact of shorter days. Yale’s Winter Depression Research Clinic offers consumers a list of light therapy options that it independently tested.

Author: Alina Dizik
Nov. 14, 2022 Original article