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Ease Seasonal Depression This Year: 5 Simple Diet And Lifestyle Changes You Can Make Today To Prevent The Winter Blues

Posted by Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC on 27 October 2021
Ease Seasonal Depression This Year: 5 Simple Diet And Lifestyle Changes You Can Make Today To Prevent The Winter Blues

If You Feel Down During The Winter, You May Be Experiencing Seasonal Depression.

For many Canadians, the winter is made to feel extra long and dark because of seasonal depression. Also referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), seasonal depression is a depression that comes and goes with the change in seasons— most often starting with the arrival of winter and ending with the arrival of spring. 

Adults in northern climates such as our own here in Ontario are more likely to experience seasonal depression than either younger or older people in the same regions. Women, as it turns out, are especially vulnerable to seasonal depression. In fact, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) women are as much as 9 times more likely to be affected than men. Fortunately, relief is attainable for both men and women. By making changes to your diet and lifestyle, easing the effects of seasonal depression is possible. 

Getting To The Root Causes Of Seasonal Depression 

Understanding what causes seasonal depression will help you understand why simple diet and lifestyle changes like the ones suggested below can be so effective at preventing it. Though there are no concrete answers yet as to what causes a person to experience seasonal depression there are common factors that most certainly play a role. 

Woman leaning on a ledge next to pants looks out of a window in the winter.

Decreased Exposure To Sunlight 

As you may have guessed, one of the main factors that cause seasonal depression is the reduced number of daylight hours. This decrease in sunlight affects the body and mind in a variety of ways. 

  • Your circadian rhythm (biological clock) can be affected 

  • You may experience a drop in serotonin levels 

  • Your body’s melatonin levels can be disrupted 

  • Vitamin D production slows in the darker months of the year 

All of these effects have been directly linked to depression and poor mental health. 

Family History Of SAD Or Seasonal Depression

If you have relatives who experience seasonal depression then you are more likely to be affected by it, too. Studies have shown that 13–17% of people who develop SAD have an immediate family member with the disorder. Likewise, there is evidence to suggest that a family history of depression and other mental health conditions can increase a person’s chances of experiencing seasonal depression in their lifetime. 

Ongoing Mental Health Struggles Or Conditions

If you live with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other chronic and ongoing mental health concerns then you are at an increased risk of experiencing seasonal depression. The physical and psychological effects of the changing season can aggravate your mental state and make an existing condition worse than it might have otherwise been. 

Help To Prevent Seasonal Depression: Tips For Easing Or Preventing SAD

While we continue to learn more about seasonal depression and what causes it, one thing is clear. The single greatest risk factor, other than pre-existing mental health struggles, is the lack of sunlight we experience during the fall and winter months here in the northern hemisphere. This is good news because there are several simple changes that effectively work to counter the physical and emotional effects the long, dark winter months have on us. 

Graphic with heading that reads 5 changes you can make to prevent seasonal depression

5 Changes You Can Make Today To Avoid Seasonal Depression

1. Get more Vitamin D.

Low levels of Vitamin D have been connected to an increased risk of depression. So, if you are prone to seasonal depression it is very important for you to make sure you are getting and producing enough Vitamin D. Getting outside in the sun is one way to help boost your body’s natural production of Vitamin D but the winter sun isn’t as effective as the summer sun. This means you may benefit from a Vitamin D supplement (consult with your doctor or primary health care provider for recommendations) or from adding Vitamin D-rich foods like fish, mushrooms, fortified foods and egg (specifically the yolks) to your meals. 

2. Eat mood-boosting foods.

As we saw above, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can also disrupt your serotonin levels. Because serotonin plays a significant role in maintaining good mental health, a decline in this hormone’s levels can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. While you can’t get serotonin directly from foods, you can eat foods high in tryptophan, the amino acid from which it is synthesized. Try including eggs, cheese, pineapple and tofu in your regular meal rotation to reap the benefits of a serotonin boost. You can also include foods high in B Vitamins and magnesium — both well-known mood boosters. 

3. Move your body daily.

Your body benefits in so many ways from regular exercise. Whether it is a brisk 30-minute walk every morning, enjoying a yoga class or a more vigorous winter sport like skiing, skating or snowshoeing exercise will help you to boost your mental health and ward off seasonal depression. When you exercise you release feel-good endorphins that not only help to dispel depression and anxiety but also help to prevent them from returning. 

4. Create healthy sleep habits. 

Because the days are shorter during the winter months, it is not unusual for your circadian rhythm (biological clock) to get confused. Combined with disrupted melatonin production, getting enough quality sleep can be tricky despite it being darker earlier. When you don’t get enough sleep you are more likely to struggle to regulate your emotions and are at a higher risk of depression. This is why creating healthy sleep habits is an important part of preventing or easing seasonal depression. Create a consistent bedtime routine and aim for a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Being well-rested can make a significant impact on your mood this winter. 

5. Limit or avoid high-fat and high-sugar foods.  

Insulin resistance, a condition that research has linked to depression, can develop if a person is overweight and inactive. Your body creates insulin to regulate your glucose levels (also called blood sugar). However, when your body cannot produce enough insulin to support your cells in taking up the glucose, you can become insulin resistant or prediabetic. Therefore, eating a healthy diet and limiting or avoiding high-fat and high-sugar foods can help you to minimize the risk of developing insulin resistance and, therefore, depression. 

Help Support Your Body And Mind Through The Dark Winter Months And Avoid Seasonal Depression. 

If you struggle with depression or the “blues” during the fall and winter, be proactive. Take steps to implement the diet and lifestyle changes that can prevent seasonal depression from setting in. To help make up for the lack of sunshine during the winter, and with the guidance of your healthcare provider, add a Vitamin D supplement into your daily health and wellness routine. Eat foods known to boost your mood, move your body every day, get more sleep and strive to reduce the amount of high-fat and high-sugar foods in your diet. If you have a family history of mental illness or have experienced depression or anxiety in the past, speak with your doctor or health care provider and explore your options or contact us to book your assessment. Together we can uncover the root causes of your symptoms and create a plan to get you back on the path of optimal health and wellness.
Author:Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC
Tags:women's healthSeasonal HealthNutritionhormones