Healthy Tips

What’s Causing Your Winter Blues? (And How to Beat Them!)

How to beat those winter blues

For some, winter is the most glorious time of year. The crisp air, the pretty snow, figure eights on local skating rinks, followed by steaming hot chocolate with those little marshmallows melting into a gooey layer of sweetness. #bliss.

However, this is decidedly not the experience of many Canadians. The Canadian Mental Health Association cites that it’s estimated up to 15 per cent of Canadians experience the “winter blues”: crankiness, fatigue, decreased energy and feelings of anxiety. The winter blues are thought to be a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression, affecting two to three per cent of the general population, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychology Research and Behavior Management.


So what’s behind these feelings that make it near impossible to drag yourself out of bed on a cold February morning?

Well, new research is exploring the actual neurochemistry involved in shaping the way we think and act, especially when it’s cold and dark for so many hours in a day.

One recent article, published in the journal Brain, suggested that these symptoms in winter are due to a change in the way your brain uses serotonin, a feel-good hormone. What this means is that the brain releases serotonin but then acts like a sponge and soaks it all back up so it doesn’t get a chance to do its job of making us feel happy. The brains of people diagnosed with SAD ultimately had less serotonin available to stimulate that happy feeling during the winter than they did in the summer.

This can have a number of effects beyond making us feel blue. For instance, it can increase appetite and makes us feel sluggish.


So how can you beat those winter blues?

As noted above, one of the main drivers of those symptoms is the shorter days that we experience here in Canada during the winter, which can affect our diet and other indicators of wellness. Taking a holistic approach, including  exercise, foods and natural health products, to prevent these symptoms before they start can help you have the best winter ever.


Consume foods that are rich in good fats and energizing protein.


Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, which is readily available in nuts, seeds, tofu and fish. Some recent research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that consuming a diet with increased levels of tryptophan containing protein, particularly during times of less sunlight, may reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression-like symptoms.


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