Remedies for Winter Depression – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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Marie Mitschke
About the Author

Marie Mitschke is a medical student. She is working on her doctoral thesis in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany.

winter depression - seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

“BRACE YOURSELVES – WINTER IS COMING!”

As this quote from a famous TV series correctly predicts, the winter season is approaching. With already shorter days and cooler temperatures, autumn is slowly making space for the upcoming season. While winter often brings beautiful snow, calmness and cozy evenings with tea and biscuits, it sadly also brings the so called “winter blues” for some. But there’s also good news, because there are several ways to lift your mood during these cold and dark months.

What is commonly known as winter blues is a sub-form of seasonal affective disorder. It is a recurrent depressive disorder that shows a seasonal pattern and usually presents with symptoms such as fatigue, low energy and/or a sad mood, in this case beginning in autumn and continuing on into the winter months [1]. Luckily, as this is a fairly well-known disorder, there are plenty of studies that focus on remedies and therapy options.

Therapy of seasonal affective disorder classically includes cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants [2]. Yet, more “natural” remedies may also be taken into consideration, especially as an additional option or in the treatment of milder or sub-clinical forms of the winter blues. Adapting your lifestyle can help keep your mood more stable and your energy levels up.

It probably comes as no surprise that physical exercise can improve our mood, among other positive effects [3]. As both light therapy and vitamin D are also recommended [1], walks in  fresh air during sunlight hours seem to provide a good opportunity in setting oneself up for success against the winter blues. As our body needs sunlight to synthesise vitamin D, walks seem to be an “all in one”- solution. However, because sunlight hours in winter may be few, so-called daylight lamps and a vitamin D substitution can provide possible help.

Our diet obviously is another big component of our lifestyle. For example, the combination of phosphatidylserine, which can be found in white beans and soybeans, and omega-3 fatty acids, which linseed, walnuts and fish contain, may also have a beneficial effect on the mood for some individuals [4]. Generally, it seems that a well-balanced, healthy diet helps to balance your mood and raises your general energy levels. Nevertheless and on a positive note, not only healthy foods have been shown to improve the mood, but also cocoa polyphenols [5]. In other words: our beloved piece of dark chocolate may also be good for our mood and therefore our mental health. It could be worse, right?

However, please do remember to consult your physician before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or taking any supplements. Furthermore, never hesitate to contact your doctor if you experience severe symptoms, believe to suffer from seasonal affective disorder or need help managing it.

References

1.            Melrose, S., Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depress Res Treat, 2015. 2015: p. 178564.

2.            Kurlansik, S.L. and A.D. Ibay, Seasonal affective disorder. Am Fam Physician, 2012. 86(11): p. 1037-41.

3.            Mikkelsen, K., et al., Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 2017. 106: p. 48-56.

4.            Komori, T., The Effects of Phosphatidylserine and Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Containing Supplement on Late Life Depression. Ment Illn, 2015. 7(1): p. 5647.

5.            Pase, M.P., et al., Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol, 2013. 27(5): p. 451-8.