Do you get gloomy, lethargic, and even more peckish than usual, when winter arrives? Then read on!
It sneaks up on you in early autumn and usually lasts right up until spring, when everything gets brighter again. A kind of depression, a craving for sugar and a feeling that nothing is worthwhile. Suddenly, you have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and struggle bravely at work to come up with just a single reasonably sensible thought.
Both winter melancholy and its more serious version, winter depression are widespread phenomena in the Nordic countries. But don’t worry. Help is at hand! Boozt chatted with a Poul Videbech, Clinical Professor at the University of Copenhagen, about why the condition occurs and the habits you can use to prevent the dark days from being quite so blue.
Reduced power at work
If you call your boss and say you are suffering from winter depression, he or she is highly unlikely to tell you to stay at home until you are your old summer self again. But Poul Videbech believes we should at least be aware of the symptoms.
“It’s a bit like a bear going into hibernation. People who suffer from this seasonal affective disorder are also in a kind of hibernation and get tired and less efficient. All the evidence suggests that it’s caused by the drug serotonin, which impacts our mood and causes changes in our brain when we get less daylight.”
In fact, it is often at work that many of us get that sense of not being as on the ball as we usually are. Especially in the case of a typical winter depression, which starts in the autumn months and lasts until spring, when we start feeling normal again.
“Many people can cope with the fact that they’re less productive and creative in winter. But for young people with careers, who are expected to deliver 100% every day, it can be harder. It can have a huge impact on their working lives.”
Good winter habits create positive energy
Given that a lack of daylight is the principal reason for the occurrence of winter blues, it will probably come as no surprise that light can also be used to keep the doom and gloom at bay. Light therapy involves a box that emits white or bluish light. You have to sit in front of it every morning. Poul Videbech is one of those who believe that for many people the method works really well.
But it may also be a good idea to step up other factors in everyday life during the cold months of the year to help both the brain and the body tackle the darkness.
“You should get out as often as possible to get sunlight during the day and make sure you’re generally physically active. Exercise is very good for our well-being and energy, so it probably also has a positive impact on a fluctuating winter mood. It also makes you feel like you are actively taking steps to feel better, and that’s a good thing in itself.”
Most people have probably heard the phrase: ‘You are what you eat.’ It is more than relevant in this context too. The food we eat has an impact on both our heart and our brain. That means it also influences our mood.
“Eat healthily and make sure you get sufficient D and B vitamins – from fish and vegetables, for instance. A lot of people don’t, and that can actually trigger symptoms of depression. Some studies also suggest that fish oil is effective in countering depression. In any case, fish is generally good for the heart, so you need to be sure you eat plenty of it.”
5 weapons to combat winter blues
1. Be physically active – every day. Exercise is good for your overall well-being and energy. It triggers the brain’s secretion of the substances that make us feel happy.
2. Eat lots of fish. Studies suggest that fish oil is effective in countering depression. Fish also contains Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids that are good for the body.
3. Take advantage of the bright hours of the day. For example, go for a walk in your lunch break or cycle to and from work – even on days when spending time outdoors does not look particularly tempting.
4. Consider buying a therapy lamp. You need to sit in front of it for half an hour every day. If you want to, you can read, knit or work while doing so.
5. Travel south in winter. For many people, just one week in the sun renews their energy and relieves winter gloom.
Make life extra cosy
Make your home even cosier than usual with our inspiring tips for cosy home wear that will make any evening on the sofa a little more pleasant.
The Nordic region is particularly vulnerable
In a country like Denmark, the winter days are up to ten hours shorter than in summer, while in northern Norway there are several months in a row when the sun does not rise above the horizon. Conversely, in southern parts of the globe, seasonal change is nowhere near as obvious. So, in some country's winter, depression simply does not exist.
“Winter depression isn’t a global problem. It gets worse the further away you get from the equator - simply because of sunlight or the lack of it,” says Poul Videbech.
“In Denmark, for example, about 10% of the population find this a problem. Three out of four cases are women, which suggests that, in addition to location, gender also plays a role.”
For a woman living in a Nordic country, this information may be somewhat disheartening. But Poul Videbech stresses that there is no need to close the shutters and build a cave in advance. If you feel the winter blues coming on, there are ways of saving yourself from mental hibernation.
“It’s not a case of having it or not having it. It’s widespread in varying degrees – both mild winter melancholy and the slightly more severe winter depression. But once you’ve had it, it’s probably something that will recur each year. Once you’re aware of that, you can make preparations and introduce good habits as a means of prevention.”