Winters are here. It is cold, chilly and there is less of sunlight. We want to and we feel like curling up in a cozy bed with a warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate or hot coffee in our hands, lying around and doing nothing. Though this seems nice for some time, but not for whole of the winter season.
What happens in the brain during winters?
Change in the Circadian Rhythm
Humans have a day and night cycle called the circadian rhythm. During winters, the days become shorter and night becomes longer, resulting in less exposure to sunlight or daylight. This tosses off our circadian rhythm. It doesn’t go hand in hand with our daily routine that is set or remains unchanged during the winters.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in our brain which gets released during the dark and tells our brain that it is night time and time to sleep. In winters, since the time for darkness increases, so does melatonin release and therefore, we feel more sleepy and we do not feel like doing anything much.
This Neurochemical helps maintain the daily moods. Hence, it’s normal lesson is needed for mental health well-being. Scientists have found that in winter, few people have 5% more SERT than in the summer. This means that more serotonin was being removed from their brains in winter, which can cause depression symptoms. These changes during the winters can lead to what is called as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Who is at risk for developing SAD?
The chances of getting the symptoms of SAD increases with age mostly it occurs post 20 years of age. Women are more affected than men.
What happens in SAD?
1. Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness.
2. Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed.
3. Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection.
4. Grouchiness and anxiety.
5. Feelings of guilt and hopelessness.
6. Extreme tiredness (fatigue).
7. Decreased sex drive.
8. Decreased ability to focus.
9. Trouble thinking clearly.
10. Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates.
11. Weight gain.
12. Physical problems, such as headaches.
Symptoms tend to come back and then improve at about the same times every year.
Habits that help combat SAD
Follow a routine in daily life: Have a fixed time to time schedule for all or most of your activities and work.
Exposure to sunlight: Increase your daily exposure to sunlight as much as possible. This helps in increasing the body’s serotonin levels and therefore improving the mood.
Increase sunlight in your room and at home: This helps you to keep you more awake and alleviate the depressive symptoms.
Use of artificial white light: This also helps just like sunlight would.
Exercise daily: Though during winters we may feel like not exercising and not getting out of bed. Despite these feelings we must exercise at least three times a week for at least 40 minutes. This is important because exercise helps us releasing I feel good hormones call endorphin. Endorphins are naturally occurring mood uppers which are released during exercise. Hence automatically the symptoms of depression reduce.
Get your beauty sleep: Get restful and refreshing 6 to 8 hours of sleep every day. Follow sleep hygiene.
Eat healthy: Eating balanced diet, containing fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains, etc., contribute to the recommended need for proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and the needed amount of fat. Avoid junk food because it leads to feelings of lethargy and laziness.
Reduce your caffeine intake to a minimum.
Avoid alcohol intake and other drugs.
Practice being grateful and be mindful in the present.
Seek help from a psychiatrist: If you experience changes in your mood, appetite, sleep habit or energy levels, visit a doctor to determine if you have SAD or if something else is going on.
Let the Sun shine during winters!