The winter months can be pretty cold, dark, and bleak, even though we start it off with Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. They can be hard to get through, because it’s dark when we wake up and dark when we get home from school, university, and work. So I thought I’d put together this survival guide.
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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is a subset of depression where people who have normal levels of mental health at other times of year can sink into depression at a certain point in the year, usually in winter (Wikipedia, Mind, and WebMD). According to Cleveland Clinic, 5% of Americans have SAD with 10-20% of the American population have a milder form of SAD, nicknamed the winter blues. This means what works for SAD will work for anyone with its milder sibling, the winter blues, to help you through the winter months.
The Winter Months Survival Guide
Less sun exposure in the winter months can lead to vitamin D deficiency. The darker your skin, the more at risk you are at having a vitamin D deficiency. As a black person, I’ve had to be prescribed vitamin D a few times because of my vitamin D levels being on the very low side. I was given an extremely high dose to bring my levels back to within the normal range. As such, I’ve started taking vitamin D every day to avoid my level dropping that low again.
Vitamin D is important because it can affect our serotonin production, an important neurotransmitter which helps regulate our mood. This disruption can make us feel depressed, but also affect our sex drive, sleep, memory, and appetite.
This is supported by Melrose (2015), who states that a systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that low levels of vitamin D were linked to depression. Melrose goes on to say that vitamin D should be taken before the winter darkness sets in to help prevent winter depression.
According to WebMD, some researchers have linked SAD to the natural hormone melatonin, which causes drowsiness in response to darkness. The Cleveland Clinic has also said that the lack of sunlight could be over stimulating the production of melatonin, causing us to feel tired and sluggish.
Thus, the winter months will affect our circadian rhythms, or our sleep-wake cycle. This cycle helps keep everything working normally as it should, whereas disturbances to it can mess up our entire day.
I was given melatonin tablets to help with my insomnia as a natural, nonaddictive sleeping tablet. However, it had an unfortunate side effect or interaction with my beta-blocker for my heart condition, causing heart palpitations, so I had to report it to Yellow Card.
If darkness causes the release of melatonin, then the opposite should be true, shouldn’t it? According to Mind, they don’t believe there is enough evidence to support the use of light exposure and light therapy to help get through the winter months and to help manage SAD. However, they don’t go so far as to dismiss the use of light exposure and light therapy.
Kurlansik and Ibay (2012) believe differently to Mind, stating that although light exposure and light therapy have had issues with finding an acceptable placebo to conduct studies (something Westrin and Lam, 2007, also stated), several systematic reviews and meta-analysis of light therapy studies show such treatments as being affective for SAD.
Personally, before the pandemic started, how easy it was for me to wake up and start functioning in the morning was always affected by when the sun rose and how much light would come in through my window. So in spring and summer I’d wake up early, often at 5-6am, while in winter I’d struggled to get up before 10am.
If we can work with people with SAD, then it could also potentially help all of us to cope with the cold and dark winter months. This can be done by using a light box or having a day light alarm clock.
Going outside, especially in the morning, will help exposure you to natural light, and the effects of natural daylight will still be effective even when it’s cloudy outside. You could do this by taking a short walk when you wake up, having your morning coffee outside, or you could sit in front of the window that’s facing the sun while having breakfast. Support for this comes from Melrose (2015) who stated that low levels of vitamin D are associated with little outdoor exposure to natural light.
Exercising, ideally for 30 minutes a day, five times a week, will also help. If you need help with achieving this exercising requirement, then why not check out my review of a yoga app by clicking here, or reading my article on how to keep exercise interesting, by clicking here. Oh, and if you’re a goth and/or like a bit of metal, I’ve also got your exercise needs covered. Just click here.
According to Parker et al. (2006) and Larrieu and Layé (2018), eating omega-3 fats can help improve our moods. For a list of some of the food items with the best levels of omega-3 fats, check out BBC Good Food by clicking here. You’ll be happy to know that not all the suggestions are fish.
Support for this comes from Melrose (2015), who believed insufficient dietary intake could cause low levels of vitamin D, which is important to serotonin production.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences of SAD, the winter blues, and getting through the winter months in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
Kurlansik, S. L., & Ibay, A. D. (2012). Seasonal affective disorder. American family physician, 86(11), 1037-1041. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1201/p1037.html.
Larrieu, T., & Layé, S. (2018). Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 1047. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.01047 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6087749.
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/drt/2015/178564 and https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564.
Parker, G., Gibson, N. A., Brotchie, H., Heruc, G., Rees, A. M., & Hadzi-Pavlovic, D. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. The American journal of psychiatry, 163(6), 969–978. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.6.969 and https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.6.969.
Westrin, Å., & Lam, R. W. (2007). Seasonal affective disorder: a clinical update. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 19(4), 239-246. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10401230701653476.
60 thoughts on “Winter Months: Survival Guide For Getting Through The Cold”
I intend to exercise this Christmas but I do have a sneaky holiday planned so that may go out the window.
I hope the sneaky holiday pans out
This post is really helpful with some really important information. I am definitely going to take each day as it comes and look after myself physically and mentally.
Thanks for sharing
These are all useful tips. I try to adopt them all over the winter to keep my energy levels up. I bought a light therapy lamp last year because I was concerned about the combined effect of winter darkness and being at home more because of the pandemic. It seems to help.
A light therapy lamp is on my to-do list for when my landlord fixes the plug sockets in my room
What a great post. Great ways to deal with the dark months of winter. Thanks for sharing,
This is so useful! I’ve always wanted to get a light box and have heard lots of good things about it, so I might buy myself one as a Christmas present!
Go for it. There’s nothing wrong with getting yourself a Christmas present
Fantastic post! There are so many issues that come with the winter months, such as low mood and darker nights. Thank you for sharing x
I currently was told I need to take vitamin D. I live in the state of Florida and I assumed I was getting enough sun but never new I need to take vitamin D until I did a blood test. I’m glad I found out and I do feel much better since taking vitamin D. I take this on top of my daily vitamins.
That’s surprising in such a sunny part of the world, but if you’re using sun cream to protect your skin daily, then that might explain it
I think todays post will really help a lot of people during these darker times. You’ve shared some great tips which I really appreciate. I actually started taking Vitamin D a couple of years ago and it defiantly works during these winter months. Thank you so much for sharing! Xo
Elle – ellegracedeveson.com
I’m glad taking vitamin D has helped you
These are great tips! I suffer from seasonal depression and getting more vitamin D plus a light therapy lamp has helped me a ton around this time of year.
I really want to try a light therapy lamp, I just don’t have a working plug socket to connect one to. Stupid landlord
Thanks for all these really useful tips and advice — I think I will have to give some of them a go over this holiday period.
I hope you get some benefits from them
Very good tips here. I always have Vitamin D but in winter it is of higher power than summer. There is really no substitute for exercise. I have to keep reminding myself to do that every day. A light Therapy Lamp is my next wishlist item for Christmas. Thank you for reminding me to add it.
I should probably increase my vitamin D does over Christmas, thinking about it
I have noticed my transition into the winter months is always a little rocky as I adjust to a new sleep pattern and try to get outside even when it is chilly, so I loved reading your tips on how omega-3, sunshine, and exercise can help keep the body and mind healthy!
Thanks for sharing. 🙂
I hope the tips help you with adjusting
This is such an important topic as so many people struggle with this. I think exercise is so important during the winter I think that’s what made lockdown so difficult so everyone. This is a super helpful list thank you for sharing.
Exercise is always important, I guess it’s just harder to motivate yourself to do it when it’s cold and dark in winter
Awesome ideas! I like doing exercises and stretching every day. It helps to stay healthy and strong.
We didn’t know how big of a role vitamin D plays. Thanks for sharing!
Especially when you have dark skin
this post gives so many helpful ways to combat the winter blues. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for reading
Great informative post. I notice it is cold outside, I don’t want to go outside, and I am sleepier.
Thanks for commenting
Great Post! definitely looking to get a sun lamp for myself
I hope you find one you like
I needed these reminders. I’ve been noticing the depression slipping in more and more these days while I hide out in the house, away from sunlight, on my couch eating my holiday snacks. We need to do good with our bodies and minds to feel good. I’m gonna start a small exercise plan today. Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad I was able to remind you
Vitamin D supplementation is very important here in the US. I take them everyday, all year. Living in NYC, work a 9 -5 locked up in the office most of the day. Moreover, the winter months we are not exposed to sunlight. These factors puts us at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
Sunlight is not only needed for our body to make Vitamin D, but it puts us in a good mood and boost our mental health. ? ⛱ ? ? I strongly believe that the frequent exposure to sunlight is one of the reasons why people from the caribbean is rated the happiest people in the world ?.
That would make sense, but weirdly, the happiest countries tend to be from Scandinavia
It is hard waking up early in the winter months. I do agree with you about taking vitamin D. Thank you for your tips.
It is really hard to wake up in winter isn’t it
excellent article! Vitamin D is essential, specially in northern countries such as Scotland! Getting outside and exercising in nature is also essential. I really struggle to get up early in these dark days, though.
The mornings are hard
Since moving to Denmark, I definitely feel like I long for longer sunnier days. Pretty much everyone here is recommended to take vitamin d in the winter due to the shorter days & they sell light therapy lamps, which I know some people use & find beneficial.
I personally find it beneficial going outside during the daylight & walks are always nice.
It must be difficult to deal with the long dark days the further north you live in Denmark
You ain’t lying…things really are just different in the winter. I have friends who use sun lamps and swear by them to get the vitamin D they need to keep going. Good article!
I always wondered how effective sunlight lamps are for creating vitamin D
It’s not just winter this can happen during glooming spring or autumn too.
Very true, especially in autumn
That was such an interesting post to read! I didn’t know about how your complexion can put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency. It makes so much sense though, I’m have very very light skin and feel absolutely awful when it’s extremely hot and sunny.
I’m no fan of hot weather either. I imagine with such light skin you must have to wear a lot of high factor sunblock
I must admit that I suffer a bit from seasonal blues during the winter. A few years ago, I bought a day light therapy lamp to help me on those grey days without sunshine. Exposure to the light of this lamp makes a difference for me, because I feel better when I use it. I think I also need to seriously consider taking vitamin D, because as a black person I need it in the winter. I’ve always neglected it, but I’m going to get on it this year. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope the vitamin D also makes a difference
Excellent post. This is a very important topic and several are dealing with this. Vitamin D is so necessary. Taking walks outside is a wonderful suggestion. I also wrote about this topic. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for commenting
This was such a great post full of tips! I noticed that I get more sleepy and tired during winter, so I need to check to get some Vitamin D supplements and check more my diet for that. I have heard a lot about light therapy and it sounds like something to try! Thanks for sharing x
I hope the tips prove useful
Thanks for these tips. I will surly use them now that I live in Maryland.
Is Maryland a cold state in the US?