Ask the Doctor: How do I ward off winter depression?

Q. As winter approaches each year and the days get shorter, I sink into a state of misery and despair. Is there anything that I can do to avoid this slump in my mood?


charity work 300x199 Ask the Doctor: How do I ward off winter depression? Photo

Charity work can help thwart winter depression.

A. Winter depression, better known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, has been linked to light deprivation, where the shortened day decreases exposure to sunlight. Those who suffer from this condition have sensitivity to light and the timing of exposure to it in their circadian cycle (biological clock).

Dr. Wehr, from the National Institute of Mental Health, suggests an excess of melatonin, which increases with darkness and is associated with sleepiness, may cause that seasonal affective disorder.

However, you don’t have to suffer from winter depression or become dependent on drugs. Here are some steps you can take the thwart seasonal depression.

1. Use Light Lamp Therapy

Get a fluorescent light box (that provides 10,000 lux power). Exposing yourself to this additional light works as well or better than taking antidepressants. The National Institute of Health found that light increases the level of serotonin, a hormone in the brain, which perks up mood.  This was also reported in Lancet, a British medical journal.

2. Take a Vacation

Break up the winter doldrums with a trip to sunny Florida or the Caribbean. It provides a respite to the dark, cold winters and also causes an increase in serotonin production.

3.Take Omega 3

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, June 2010, demonstrated that Omega-3 dramatically improved depression when its not accompanied by anxiety. Doses of 150 mg DHA and 1050 mg of EPA during an 8-week period gave positive effects.

4. Cut Back on Sugars

This is especially hard during the holidays when sweets and desserts are everywhere. However, there is a direct relationship between sugars and white-flour affecting our addictive part of the brain. A link between sugars and outpouring of insulin with subsequent low blood sugar and depression has long been known.

5. Exercise

Engaging in vigorous exercise causes an outpouring of endorphins, neurotransmitters found in the nervous system and the pituitary gland, which act as mood elevators. Feeling that you’re in good shape will also contribute to a lighter spirit.

6. Commit to a Goal

Get involved in a project that will provide you with a sense of achievement. It can be enrolling in a local university course, taking up photography, cooking classes or simply getting to those projects that you have been procrastinating about. Finishing your to do list or stretching your skills, boosts your self esteem and gives a profound sense of mood elevation.

7. Surround Yourself With Your Support Group

Don’t isolate yourself. Stay in touch with your friends. They are part of your fan club and will accept you for who you are, encourage you to be better, make you laugh, advise you and share your feelings. If the weather or circumstances prevent getting together physically, try Skype or Facetime on the phone or computer.

8.Engage in Charitable Causes

Seeing those less fortunate often helps put our problems into better perspective. “Committing oneself to a noble mission” and engaging in “acts of altruism” combat depression, according to psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania. Volunteer at a soup kitchen; visit the  elderly at a nursing home or your local hospital to give back to those down trodden. Suddenly your life will seem improved.

9. Add Vitamin B’s and St. John’s Wort

Research studies show that Vitamin B’s helped contribute to health overall and with St. John’s Wort provides depression relief by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. St. John’s Wort has been used for symptom relief for over 2 centuries and successfully treats both severe and moderate depression according to the British Medical Journal.

If you are unable to shake your down mood, you should visit your physician to rule out depression. See our Depression Patient Guide.