Why are we more depressed during the winter? It’s not just about daylight…

 

“We are more depressed in winter”. This is one of these things that we have always heard and taken for a fait accompli without questioning it. But what if it did not have to be this way?

Following my own advice I got some winter sun this year and just got back from 2 weeks in Bali where I attended the Master Leadership Program run by Ed J C Smith.

On top of learning new skills, reflecting on what I have and planning what I want to do in 2018, I spent time outdoors, got up with the sun, exercised on the beach for an hour every morning, recharge my vitamin D batteries and ate fresh local food. During the program Ed offered us to follow a cleanse, which I did. And even though it was admittedly challenging I am glad I did it.

I am not going to tell you all about my 2 weeks out there but in a nutshell I came back a lot healthier physically and mentally that when I left. 

And suddenly something Ed said got me thinking. He mentioned that the deadliest time of the year by suicides was not at Christmas but a few weeks later towards the end of winter. Why? Well… party because of Christmas.

Why is this time of year different

The overeating/overdrinking factor

In the UK most of us spend December Christmas partying and generally overdoing it. We eat too much (and not the healthiest stuff either…) and we drink too much. Then we have hangovers which lead us to do nothing while recovering and eat more junk food to make us feel better. By the way both of these things are the opposite of what you should do if you wanted to recover from a hangover faster but that’s beside the point.

The stress factor

Also Christmas can be a rather stressful time of year. Family members that otherwise spend the rest of the year avoiding each other are reunited under the same roof and things can go wrong. There is also all this social pressure to be happy and enjoy ourselves at Christmas time, which can make things worse when you already suffer from depression.

Personally spending Christmas with my family has in the past reminded me that I was the last single girl. Both of my sisters have family and I am the odd one out. And in my late thirties too. Talk about social pressure!! I am fine with this now and I really enjoy seeing my family at Christmas time but it has been difficult in previous years, triggering low mood. 

The immune system factor

All of this, extra food, drinks and stress, ends up impacting on our immune system and we soon get sick, which doesn’t help our mood. Apparently January is the time of year where the highest number of people take sick leave.

And suddenly what Ed said made total sense to me. Over the last few years January and February have been the hardest months of the year for me depression wise.

So what can we do about it?

Avoiding the Christmas trap

As always, whatever the issue is, awareness if the first step towards the solution.

So in this case I would suggest keeping an eye on what you are eating and drinking and go back to the basics:

          Drink responsibly and match each glass of alcohol with a glass of water

          Remind yourself that there is nothing fun about hangovers and that you are most likely to eat the wrong food to “help” with the hangover

          Don’t overeat – stop when you are full – the rest can always be eaten tomorrow, there’s no rush

          Continue to follow your health routine

          Make sure you exercise every day

          Fast 2 days a week to balance out the days when you are overeating (for the benefits of intermittent fasting, see my previous post How Food Impacts Your Mood)

So granted there is little we can do about daylight (although we can make the most of it and get ourselves a SAD lamp), but there are a lot of other things that we can do. So my objective this winter is zero depression.

If you would like more tips on fighting depression during the winter, sign up below to download my practical guide “How To Survive The Winter”.  

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