Lots of people get the winter blues. Shorter days, colder temperatures, and less exposure to sunlight all affect our mental wellbeing. In fact, there is actually a medical term for it – Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Scientists have a theory that SAD is related to the way our bodies respond to daylight. When daylight enters through our eyes it causes changes in hormone levels – light wakes us up and stops production of the sleep hormone melatonin. When there are shorter daylight hours and less light in the daytime, our bodies can produce more melatonin causing lethargy, and for some, even depression.
There are also studies on the role vitamin D plays in mitigating SAD. Vitamin D affects the amount of serotonin and dopamine we produce (these are our ‘happy’ hormones) – people who are low in vitamin D produce less happy hormones and are more susceptible to low moods and depression.
So, what can we do to support ourselves and minimise SAD symptoms during the winter months when there is less sunlight? Actually, quite a lot.
Take a vitamin D supplement
90% of our essential vitamin D comes from our skin being exposed (unprotected) to the sun. The challenge with this is that during the winter months, the sun’s UV rays are typically not strong enough for the body to synthesize into enough vitamin D. If you are one of the 50% of the global population who already has suboptimal levels of vitamin D, then it is vital to consider alternative ways of getting enough. A vitamin D3 supplement is what you need, and most adults will need to take around 1000 IU per day in winter to keep the happy hormones humming.
Of course, what we put into our bodies plays a massive role in our health and wellbeing. Even if you’re taking your D3 supplement, it’s never a bad thing to add food that is rich in vitamin D to your diet. These include foods like oily fish - tuna, mackerel, and salmon, soy milk, orange juice, yoghurt, mushrooms, egg yolks, butter, and fortified cereals.
When our moods are low, we are more likely to eat unhealthy foods and comfort eat. So, maintaining a balanced diet is important. But remember, everything in moderation, including moderation. You’ve still gotta have your treats every now and then, and that’s ok too.
Move your body
Yes yes, we all know about the importance of exercise, so we won’t labour the point too much here. The thing with exercise though is that it boosts mood, decreases the symptoms of depression, and reduces stress. Even just going for a short walk for a few minutes a day will make a difference to your mood and help decrease the symptoms of SAD. Plus, it’ll get you out into the light, which is important.
Seek out the sun
This isn’t always possible, but if there is a sunny day then make the most of it. Get outside, open your eyes nice and wide (to stop melatonin production) and take onboard the sun’s healing rays. We all need 10 – 30 minutes of unprotected (no sunscreen) exposure to the sun, several times a week. And if you’re fortunate enough to book a mid-winter overseas holiday to somewhere sunny, even better.
Maintain a good sleep routine
Sleep plays a significant role in our moods. If we are not getting enough sleep regularly, our circadian rhythms (our natural internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats every 24 hours) can become disrupted. Disrupted circadian rhythms can negatively impact cortisol rhythms (cortisol is our primary stress hormone that controls mood, motivation, and fear).
So, where possible, but especially during the colder months, try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day, keep your room as dark as possible when sleeping, expose yourself to light as soon as you wake to put a halt to melatonin production, and try to minimise the use of phones and electronic devices in the last hour before you sleep. You might want to set up a bedtime routine that signals to your body that you are winding down, like taking a bath or shower, dimming the lights, or drinking a cup of herbal tea (but make sure you don’t have caffeine at night).
Try essential oils
Our Mood Mists are lovingly created with a synergy of therapeutic essential oils and extracts from the herbs grown in our garden, each of our Mood Mists create an aromatherapy experience to energise, calm or comfort you.
Mother Nature provides us with a vast array of options for boosting our health and wellbeing, and you only have to read our blog regularly to get lots of ideas in this department. For mood boosting, essential oils are our go-to because aromatherapy can stimulate serotonin release in the brain and help regulate our emotions. Some oils we recommend for mood boosting are:
Lavender: One of the most studied essential oils, Lavender encourages inner peace and balanced emotions. It is beautifully soothing and calming, which is why its one of the key ingredients in our Mood Mists.
Peppermint: If you’re producing too much melatonin you need a powerhouse to pick you up. Peppermint oil’s vibrant and refreshing aroma and cooling qualities makes it an excellent way to wake up your brain.
Jasmine: Works primarily at an emotional level in the human body and has a calming, uplifting effect. Profoundly soothing, Jasmine inspires positivity, restores optimism and confidence, and helps release emotional blocks. Also in our Mood Mists.
Bergamot: Ideal for the winter blues as it influences serotonin release in the brain. It is uplifting and mood enhancing, supporting feelings of hopefulness and joy.
Sweet orange: Who doesn’t love the smell of oranges! Sweet orange is a SAD must-have and studies have shown that it can perform better than antidepressants. Diffuse sweet orange in your home and allow its buoyant, bright aroma to shift your mood.
Above all, be kind to yourself
Sometimes it’s easier to take care of others than it is to take care of ourselves. But at the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own mental health and wellbeing and sometimes we just need to prioritise ourselves. Be kind to yourself and reach out if you need support. There’s plenty you can do to keep the winter blues at bay.