It's programmed into our biology .... winter has been a tough time of survival and endurance for eons.
As the days get shorter and the temperature decreases in the cooler months of Autumn and Winter, it is expected that people may find that their mood and motivation also tend to drop. This behavioural pattern is pretty standard and one that we humans with animal instincts have adapted to over millions of years.
The biological reason for this stems back to caveman times when we didn't have "calendars and clocks" to tell us the date and time. Still, our body relied on temperature changes, and sensors in our eyes monitored changing light and UV frequencies and, as a matter of survival, sent us hibernating inside warm, dry caves to keep us safe.
From a primal perspective, there is less food around, and changes in weather patterns mean being snowed or "rained in" is a real risk, possibly combined with high winds making hunting more difficult.
It is understandable then, with this "hangover" at play from our ancestral times, it is common to feel like you have just lost your "mojo" at this time.
Turning the body's metabolism right down to a low simmer makes sense. We are, by design, more sleepy, lethargic, and less motivated in colder weather (not much to do but sleep when you are stuck inside in a cave all day or a hut without electricity, for that matter!). Our body desires to intake more calories and expend less energy. Nature knows in the interests of survival, all health maintaining energy and vitality must be conserved at such a time, pulled from the extremities to stay around the vital organs, maintaining an optimal and consistent core temperature of 37 deg c. There is little use for new ideas and inspiration until the warmth of spring.
When we recognise this natural seasonal cycle, we can offer ourselves more mindfulness and empathy when we don't feel like getting out of bed!
When winter becomes a mood killer. How to know when its more than just a little thing.
If you have symptoms that persist consistently without change, impacting your ability to function normally during the day, you should seek medical attention.
Speak to your GP or a psychologist if you recognise any of the following:
Feeling hopeless or worthless most of the day, nearly every day
Having low energy that prevents you from getting out of bed and taking care of yourself or those dependent on you
Losing interest in socialising and activities you once enjoyed
Changes in your appetite, drinking habits or weight loss/gain
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of Depression (7) that comes and goes according to the season. People with SAD have symptoms of Depression or mania at roughly the same time each year.
SAD usually develops in autumn and winter and then disappears in spring and summer. In some people, the symptoms are in spring and early summer. SAD is diagnosable if a pattern has become very obvious over at least two years in a row.
When can a naturopath help ?
If you can relate to any of the above but maybe on a milder level that does not impact your ability to function daily, consider seeing a natural health practitioner. A few situations suited to working with a health coach or natural therapist :
you feel like staying in bed but can still manage to push yourself to exercise or go to work,
you don't always feel like socialising but will if you have to,
you are aware enough of critical thoughts, and while they are not pleasant, you can turn them around because you know it's essential)
A naturopath can help you understand what is going on in your body at this point and fine tune and optimise your health and if there is a seasonal pattern, help you to recognise it and better prepare you and enhance your health as resilient ammunition for each cold season.
6 ways that you can actively support improved mood during the winter months :
1) Keep your home free of moisture. Be mould aware.
Ensure your house is cleared of any damp, mould or mildew. The presence of mould is linked with low mood and Depression. (1) Read how you can clean mould safely here.
2) Make like a grandma and stay warm and dry
Keep your core body temperature optimal, but don't go into bill shock by turning on every heater in the house (after all this in itself can trigger more low mood and anxiety!). Do it the old-fashioned
way ! You can use hot water bottles, heated wheat bags, layering thermal clothing, draught blockers under doors, thick window coverings and drapes, extra blankets and bedding and woollen socks. Using the sauna or hot spa at the local gym or recreation centre is an idea worth entertaining. An indoor or outdoor fireplace is always very inviting, giving off a dry, radiant heat.
Animal studies have shown that whole-body heating can have
antidepressant-like effects (2)
3) Enjoy warming and nourishing foods
Spices like cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, paprika, turmeric, pepper and chilli have traditionally been used in herbal medicine for their ability to promote blood flow and circulation. Warm blood flow to the extremities can assist someone with otherwise poor circulation and high sensitivity to cold in regulating their core body temperature more effectively.
Winter is the time for warming cups of herbal tea and nourishing slow-cooked soups and stews. Enjoying a warm drink from a thermos when out at a footy game or returning home to a warm dinner in the slow cooker can be an instant mood lifter on a wintery day.
4) Keep up with a regular indoor exercise routine; adapt your time and type of exercise to suit the season if you need to.
Keep joints limber and blood flow moving with an exercise routine that can be enjoyed regardless of the weather. Think hot Bikram yoga, indoor swimming in a heated pool, cardio classes, weight training at the gym, or even just some star jumps on the spot to get you out of bed in the morning ! Maintain your energy by keeping the heart pumping and blood flow moving.
5) Get your GP to check your Thyroid Hormones and Vitamin D levels - supplement if necessary
Underactive thyroid is linked with low mood, low motivation and depressive disorder (5). If you have been experiencing a persistent low mood and are also prone to cold sensitivity, requesting your GP to check your thyroid is worthwhile. Interestingly, no surprise that there is a link between impaired thyroid functioning and low vitamin D levels (6). This is not to say you can't have low thyroid without low vitamin D levels and vice versa. Evidence suggests that your Vitamin D levels may be optimal, but your Vitamin D metabolism could be blocked, and there could be several reasons for this. At any rate, if you do have any thyroid issues, Vitamin D levels would be something you would want to have checked out fairly regularly. With consideration of autoimmune conditions, I always like to see levels well above 80, closer to 100 (your doctor will likely tell you 50 is ok and "within range")
Vitamin D is produced with consistent UV sun exposure on our skin. If you live in a low light climate with winter seasons that are colder than most areas forcing you indoors or with less sun exposure, you may be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is linked with low mood, and Depression (3) Want me to recommend for you a high-quality practitioner-only Vitamin D supplement? Book a Supplements Review here.
6) Fill your home with light during the day and get outdoors when the sun is out
Studies have shown that our brain needs a certain amount of UV light to function optimally (4) Open blinds and window coverings to let in as much light as possible into your home and work environment. When you wake up in the morning, open the blinds and curtains as early in the morning as possible to let in more light to activate your body and brain. Consider using extra lighting and lamps in the home to brighten dark corners and make the home more welcoming and inviting. If you are prone to feeling low mood and energy during the colder months book and plan for an annual holiday to somewhere warmer, even if it is within your own country. A short mini-break and respite from the cold weather and getting out into the sunshine can be the ultimate mood lifter to look forward to year on year instead of dreading winter.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms above, please get in touch with one of the following crisis lines :
Talk to a trained mental health professional any time of the day or night. Calls are confidential. They will listen, provide information and advice and point you in the right direction to seek further support.
1300 22 4636
Open 1pm to midnight, 7 days a week
24-hour crisis support telephone service. Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.
A telephone counselling support line for children and young people ages 5 to 25 and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
1800 551 800
NSW Mental Health Line
A mental health professional will answer your call about mental health concerns for you or someone you are concerned about, including children, teens, adults and older people.
Suicide Call Back Service
National services that provides free 24/7 phone, video and online professional counselling to people who are affected by suicide.
1300 659 467
Dampness and Mold in the home and Depression: an examination of mold related illness. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17761567/
Interactions between whole body heating and anti depressant like behaviours and neurochemistry in male rats https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30468787/
Vitamin D in Anxiety and Affective disorders https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26680471/
Effect of UV light on Mood, depressive disorders and wellbeing https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29855075/
Association of Anxiety and depressive disorder and autoimmune thyroiditis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29800939/
The role of vitamin D in thyroid disease https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28895880/
Depression defined as per government health guidelines https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/depression