Meditating girl in winter forest meeting morning sun

6 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Roughly 14% of Americans experience the winter blues, and about 6% experience symptoms of the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Even if you’re not prone to a depressive slump in winter, low levels of light and increased time indoors can still pose a threat to your overall wellness. These tips can help you feel your best this winter.

1) Eat a Balanced Diet

It’s easy to let healthy eating habits slide during the coldest months of the year. If you find yourself reaching for carbs and skipping the gym, you’re not alone. A study at the University of Exeter suggests that humans evolved to overeat and retain fat during winter, when starvation was most likely. Most contemporary humans no longer face seasonal threats to survival, yet the subconscious urge to overconsume remains powerful – an urge compounded by the high levels of sugar, salt, and fat in contemporary diets.¹

 

There are a number of other reasons nutrition tends to suffer during winter. We’re often dehydrated, and dehydration cues can be mistaken for hunger. Indeed, we sweat just as much during winter as we do during summer, thanks to dry indoor heating and extra layers of clothing. Seasonal doldrums can also encourage overconsumption of foods that stimulate the brain’s pleasure center. 

 

To combat evolution, dehydration, and the winter blues, make sure to eat balanced meals full of seasonal ingredients. A good rule of thumb is to try to incorporate every color of the rainbow – bright orange carrots and squashes, minty green cabbage and fennel, blood-red beets, and winter-white

2) Support Your Digestive System

It’s also important to maintain digestive health during the winter months when many people experience mood fluctuations ranging from mild blueness to SAD. The connection between gut and brain health² may not be immediately clear, so let’s break it down. Scientists are just beginning to understand the way in which your “second brain” – the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) that lines the walls of your gastrointestinal tract – communicates with the brain atop your shoulders. When the bowels become irritated, your ENS sends signals to the Central Nervous System (CNS) that can trigger mood changes. 

 

As a result of the gut-brain connection, it’s easy to get caught in a winter blues cycle: the cold weather and low light cause you to crave comfort foods (and lots of them), but those low-fiber comfort foods are likely to irritate your digestive system, which registers its discomfort in the ENS, which sends pain signals to your CNS, which in turn exacerbates your winter blues. To break the cycle, be sure to consume plenty of fiber – women (up to age 50) need approximately 25 grams per day and men (up to age 50) need about 38 grams per day.³ You can get your fiber from seeds, grains, and legumes like quinoa, farro, bulgur, lentils, and beans. Vegetables, nuts, berries, and yogurt are also excellent sources of fiber.

 

No digestive care routine is complete without attention to the gut microbiome. Trillions of microorganisms – such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic organisms – live in your gut, and each of the roughly 1,000 different species that call your body home play an important role in your health. Some species of bacteria help produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which is an essential mood regulator. Neurological health is thus dependent upon digestive health. There are tons of supplements on the market that claim to facilitate a healthy gut microbiome. Look for products that contain pre-, pro-, and post-biotics – these are like fertilizer for the garden that is your microbiome.

3) Get the Right Nutrients

Maintaining proper nutrient levels is always important, but the consequences of depletion in winter can be particularly unpleasant. To avoid the winter blues, make sure you’re getting enough of these key vitamins and minerals (a blood test can tell you your exact areas of deficiency):

  • Vitamin D: Roughly 40% of Americans are vitamin-D deficient year-round⁴, but it can be especially difficult to maintain adequate levels of this vital nutrient during winter, when we have less access to regular periods of direct UV exposure. A lack of vitamin D is associated with depression and immune system weakness.
 
  • Omega-3 Fish Oil: Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have also been connected to mood. They play an important role in proper brain function, and can have a serious impact on your emotional health.
 
  • Vitamin B-6: This vitamin is essential for optimal nerve function, and deficiency in vitamin B-6 has been associated with mood changes such as irritability, anxiety, and depression.

4) Let the Sun Shine In

It’s tempting to avoid the outdoors altogether when temperatures drop, but insufficient UV exposure is one of the primary reasons people experience blueness and SAD symptoms. Sunlight has been shown to improve your mood by boosting the production of serotonin, a mood-regulating hormone. Moreover, direct exposure to sunlight is necessary for the process of vitamin D synthesis that occurs when ultraviolet B (UVB) rays make contact with the cholesterol in skin cells. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to significant health issues, such as osteoporosis, cancer, muscle weakness, and depression. 

 

It’s important to note that UVB rays can’t penetrate windows. So even if your desk is situated next to a window, you won’t enjoy the benefits of natural vitamin D synthesis unless you make time to go outside. Light therapy lamps can also be an effective way to increase your exposure to UVB rays without actually braving the cold.

5) Get Enough (But Not Too Much) Sleep

Do you notice yourself feeling sleepier than usual during the winter months? There’s a good reason for your lethargy. The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by melatonin, a hormone that is released in response to changes in light exposure. Shorter days and less intense sunlight mean that your body produces more melatonin, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make you feel sleepier earlier in the evening.

 

While it’s important to get enough sleep – every aspect of wellness depends on it, including proper mood and immune function – disrupting your circadian rhythm with excessive amounts of sleep can actually have a negative impact on your mood by encouraging the overproduction of melatonin. Try to adhere to a consistent sleep schedule, and resist the urge to hibernate. Ideally, your sleep schedule in winter should be no different than your summertime routine.

While you cannot neutralize the effects of the glutamine rebound, you will likely feel better if you get as much sleep as possible after a night of raging. The only way to fully recover is to get quality, uninterrupted sleep the night after your big night out.

6) Support Your Immune System

In our post-Covid world, we’ve all become more aware of the importance of strong immunities. It’s especially crucial to support your immune system in winter, when increased time indoors promotes the spread of all kinds of illnesses. In addition to the right nutrition – fresh fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens – you can also rely on certain supplements to keep your immune system in fighting shape. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fishes like salmon, tuna, and sardines, have been shown to not only support your immune system, but also healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and liver function. If you’re not a fan of fish, you can take fish oil to maintain optimal Omega-3 levels.

 

Zinc has also been shown to shorten the length of the common cold and the severity of symptoms. Taking a zinc supplement as a preventative measure can ensure you’re ready when cold symptoms arise.

Regular IV Drip Therapy Can Help

If you’re struggling to stay hydrated and maintain proper levels of vitamins and minerals, consider adding IV drip therapy to your wellness routine. It’s a fantastic way to hydrate, maintain sufficient nutrient levels, and support your immune system.

 

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