Winter can be wonderful season, where people welcome the opportunity to get out their winter woollies, snuggle up under the doona or in front of the fire, or even go skiing, or even just get a break from the heat of summer.
I’m not sad, I have SAD
For others, it’s not so good. It’s cold and dark, hard to get out of bed, and may even contribute to depression. For some people, the ‘winter blues’ is not a matter of preference for warmer weather but is a more serious condition known as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that begins and ends at about the same time every year.
What is depression?
Depression comes in several forms but has common signs and symptoms. To be diagnosed with depression, five or more of the following symptoms must be present without mania for at least two weeks: insomnia; hypersomnia (sleeping too much); significant change in appetite; fatigue; feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or inappropriate guilt; extremely poor concentration; feelings of agitation, restlessness, irritability or near complete inactivity or withdrawal; recurrent thoughts of death or suicide; feelings of hopelessness; and physical hyperactivity or inactivity.
What are the influences on depression?
There are many influences that can lead to depression. Psychodynamic (eg. Chronic stress, early childhood loss), biological (eg. Alteration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin), genetic predisposition, light exposure, sleep disturbances, social isolation, nutritional deficiencies, or other physiological disturbances related to chronic pain, inflammation or hormonal derangement.
How can I minimise or prevent depression during winter?
Firstly, medically diagnosed depression needs proper treatment. Cognitive therapy directed at coping skills and anti-depressant medication has been proven to be effective in treating serious depression, especially in combination.
For those who don’t have medically-diagnosed depression, or who would like to avoid the side-effects of long-term medication, there are other alternatives.
Eight things you can do to improve your mood this winter
- Exercise – regular aerobic or strength training has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms.
- Eat fatty fish (eg. Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines) – these fish are high in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids appears to be beneficial for mood improvement
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. People following a Mediterranean diet are much less likely to suffer depression.
- Get some sunshine – we are lucky in Canberra, that, despite the cold, there is usually an abundance of sunshine. Expose as much of your body to the sun for a short time (15 – 20 minutes) a few times per week to help your body produce vitamin D. Sit with the sun on your face, eyes closed (don’t stare into the sun!), to help stimulate the pineal gland, related to melatonin production and sleep.
- Yoga and meditation – both of these have been shown to help improve mood via relaxation and reducing the stress response.
- Get enough sleep – lack of sleep has been implicated as a factor in depression.
- Reduce sugar intake – a high sugar diet can reduce serotonin levels and thus contribute to depression.
- Reduce smoking and alcohol consumption. As with sugar above, these can contribute to depression.
What about chiropractic care?
Unfortunately, there is no research to support chiropractic care as an effective treatment option for depression.
Many people, however, report that their mood improves with improvements in spine and nervous system function. One possible influence is reduced inflammation and pain having a positive effect on stress hormones (eg. Cortisol) with flow-on effects on serotonin and other hormones that influence mood. Another mechanism may be the effect of increased movement receptor (mechanoreceptor) input to brain, and the flow-on effects on the regulation of hormonal activity.
The main focus of chiropractic care is to restore proper movement to the spine and thus improve nervous system function.
Try some of these recommendations to see if you can feel in better spirits through winter!