4 Ways to Fight Off the Winter Blues
The arrival of autumn is marked by light periods that are shorter and of lower intensity (100,000 lux in the summer compared to 2,000 lux in the winter). This lack of natural light at this time of year affects many people, who say they feel more tired, less motivated and even more irritable. Light plays an important role in regulating our internal biological clock. Our body has specific cycles which, when unbalanced, affect the secretion of hormones and have an impact on our moods, among other things. This phenomenon, which affects people living in our planet’s Northern Hemisphere, is normal and should be of rather short duration. However, for some people, the problem is more important because it is recurrent, it persists until the arrival of spring and the intensity of the symptoms damages their usual functioning. It could turn out to be seasonal depression, also called "seasonal affective disorder". A medical consultation is therefore recommended. In this case, the doctor may prescribe medication and/or suggest a follow-up with a mental health professional.
However, without it becoming an overpowering disorder requiring this kind of intervention, the lack of light can all affect us. At least two important components are identified in research as being effective in preventing and combating the blues during this darker period of the year: a more prolonged exposure to daylight and physical exercise.
1. Seek exposure to natural light
It is recommended to get at least one hour per day of exposure to natural light. Even when you are inside, whenever possible, open the curtains to allow in as much natural light as possible.
2. Be physically active
The lack of light causes a decrease in the secretion of some hormones including serotonin and endorphin. This biochemical imbalance affects both the body and the functioning of our brain. It is therefore logical to consider physical exercise as a good way to restore body-mind balance. Several scientific studies have shown that doing physical activities regularly is indeed an effective way to produce these hormones in the brain. Moreover, physical activity is recognized as a powerful ally in managing stress and thus contributes to better psychological health. During fall and winter, it is strongly recommended to do as many outdoor physical activities as possible to multiply the benefits associated with the combination of sporting activity and exposure to daylight.
3. Take Omega-3
Recommendations from experts don’t ignore the contribution of omega-3 in one’s diet as a way to help decrease the negative moods related to lack of light.
4. Artificial light to the rescue
Light therapy also has benefits. In this case, experts recommend exposure to high intensity white light (10,000 lux) for 30 to 45 minutes per day. However, it is recommended to consult a physician before starting this type of treatment as it may have undesirable side effects in some people.
We wish you a wonderful, active winter season… in good mental health!
Hani Iskandar, La dépression saisonnière, Douglas Institute, 2016.