Why do some people feel depressed during Winter?

written by Leisa Brown, natural health practitioner, and guest blogger here at Back 2 Balance.

Lack of daylight can cause a drop in our level of the neurotransmitter serotonin. If your level of serotonin becomes too low it will cause symptoms of depression. So maintaining good serotonin levels throughout Winter is a key factor in preventing depression.

Our pineal gland produces a hormone called melatonin which induces sleep (this is very useful at night when we want to sleep). Natural light inhibits production of melatonin to keep us feeling awake and energised during the day but during Winter the longer periods of darkness cause more melatonin to be produced, making us feel more tired and lethargic.

Winter is a time of rest and recuperation and before we had electric lighting (which has only been around for about a century) we would naturally have done less and slept for longer during the Winter months to give our bodies a chance to rest. Nowadays, most of us in the developed world have access to artificial lighting whenever we want it and, as with all modern conveniences, it comes at a price to our wellbeing. Our society doesn’t slow down much during Winter – most people have to work the same long hours during the Winter and many people arrive at work before it’s fully light and don’t leave until it’s dark again. It’s no wonder they don’t feel very good!



So what can we do to help?

Firstly, if you suffer from serious depression, whether seasonal or not, please seek professional help. As depression depletes energy and motivation it is very difficult to recover from it without help.

Nutritional deficiencies can result in chemical imbalances that cause feelings of depression. Taking good supplements can really help to prevent this from happening. A really good multi vitamin and mineral is a good starting point for maintaining good levels of essential nutrients. I love the CoQ10 Wholefood Multi from Cytoplan – adults take 4 daily (2 with breakfast and 2 later in the day). This is higher than the stated dose on the jar which is rather low as they have to comply with government guidelines (which could possibly be influenced by big pharmaceutical companies who definitely don’t want us to be healthy for obvious reasons!)

Lack of omega oils can also cause feelings of depression. A good fish oil supplement can really help if this is the case with you, but again, quality is essential. Choose a really good one- Back 2 Balance sells a good brand called Nordic Oil.

5-HTP is a precurser to serotonin (the body converts it to serotonin). Although safe for most people, this is one of the products that I really prefer people to take under supervision (of myself or another practitioner) but if this is not possible for you and provided you have no medical conditions, are not pregnant and are not taking any medication you can take up to two capsules a day of the Cytoplan product 5-HTP Plus. I am happy to offer advice over the phone if you are not sure so please contact me on 01273 694920 if you have any questions.

Foods to eat
Eating foods high in L-tryptophan (an amino acid which the body converts into serotonin) can help, although your body does need to be in very good working order and with good levels of many other nutrients to enable this process to happen efficiently – this is why 5-HTP supplements are often more effective as it is easier for the body to convert than tryptophan.
Some foods high in L-trytophan are poultry, eggs, milk, bananas, nuts and seeds.

And foods to avoid…
Whilst some foods can help improve your mood, there are others which can cause depression. Sugar, alcohol and refined foods (especially refined wheat) can be a major contributor to depression. Ironically it is these very products that people tend to crave when they are feeling low (because they give a short term boost) and they can end up caught in a vicious cycle. In this case, a Kinesiology treatment can really help by balancing your body and mind to help you break out of the cycle and is well worth considering if you feel you are stuck. For more information about Kinesiology visit my website.

Flower essences
Flower essences work on an emotional level and can really help to reduce feelings of depression. It is completely safe to self-prescribe these and they can safely be used on children too. Here are some of the ones that can help with depression. I like the Healing Herbs brand of Bach flower essences.

Mustard – particularly useful for when you feel depressed and don’t know why. Helps to clear the “black cloud” fog.
Gorse – great for when you feel like you need some sunshine in your life. Helps feelings of real despair and hopelessness.
Hornbeam – for that “Monday morning” feeling. Helps motivate you when you are feeling lethargic and low in energy.
Gentian – to ease doubt and despondency. A good remedy for when you know what you are feeling depressed about.
Agrimony – helps to ease worry and anxiety which can exacerbate feelings of depression. Helps to bring out joy and cheerfulness

Get outdoors

Getting as much natural light as possible is essential, even on a cloudy day, although obviously sunny weather is better still. If you work indoors during daylight hours then try to get outside at lunchtime as often as possible as the daylight will help your body to release serotonin. If you really can’t get outside enough and you do suffer from Winter depression then you might want to consider trying a special light designed to help prevent Winter depression. These lights use special bulbs that are closer to natural daylight than normal bulbs and many people find they really help them during the Winter. (Note – they are not the same as the “sunrise” alarm clocks which build up light in the morning to help wake you up – these alarm clocks are useful for their own purpose but do not contain the special light bulbs that light boxes do).

Research has shown that exercise is very helpful at alleviating depression. The problem of course is that when you are depressed it can be incredibly hard to motivate yourself to start exercising so it’s really important to start some kind of exercise before your Winter depression really kicks in. Find something you actually enjoy, otherwise you’re unlikely to stick with it. Even gentle forms of exercise such as yoga or walking (outdoors if possible) can be extremely beneficial.

Have I missed out anything? What do you find that helps your ‘winter blues?’ Join our discussion and comment below….

Leisa Brown has been working in the natural health field for 20 years. She specialises in kinesiology, emotional freedom techniques, massage and aromatherapy. Her website is www.leisabrown.co.uk and you can find her on Facebook. Alternatively, call her on 01273 694920.