Winter depression – combating a gloomy mood

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Many people see the winter months as dark, grey and wet: ideal conditions for winter blues or a winter depression to develop. However, there are strategies to make a gloomy mood more bearable, or even avoid it altogether.

Winter blues: seasonal woes

Women are affected more often than men, the condition is more widespread in northern countries than in southern climes, and it’s predestined in winter: we’re talking about the winter blues, or winter depression. But what lies behind these terms, what are the causes, and what can be done to prevent it?

Are winter blues and winter depression the same thing?

Specialists generally don’t use the terms winter blues or winter depression. They speak of seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression. Such disorders generally occur in the cold, wet and often grey months of winter, hence the common names of winter blues and winter depression.

What are the causes of winter blues?

The main reason for winter blues is a lack of light. This leads to a different day-night pattern which, in turn, affects our hormonal balance: the body releases more of the sleep hormone melatonin and, at the same time, less of the “happiness hormone” serotonin is available. This combination can affect our mood.

Typical symptoms

  • lack of drive and energy
  • increased need for sleep
  • irritability
  • a generally depressed mood

But symptoms atypical of depression, such as ravenous hunger attacks, have also been observed.

What helps with winter blues?

Daylight is key if you suffer from winter depression. No matter how dull a winter day is, the light intensity outdoors is many times higher than indoors. Getting a large dose of daylight every day – ideally on a one-hour walk – will remove the very source of winter blues. Doing sports or regular physical activity can also help lighten your mood as this raises serotonin levels. Finally, small pleasures such as meeting friends, holding a hot cup of tea in your hands, a magnificent snow-covered landscape, or a warm bath after a hard day will also lift your spirits.

What are the benefits of light therapy?

Medical daylight lamps with a light intensity of between 2,500 and 10,000 lux have a similar effect to spending time in sunlight. A daily dose of artificial light can therefore help to brighten a gloomy mood – literally. An effect is noticed after only a few days.

Do I need to see a doctor?

Often, the measures listed are sufficient to combat the winter blues. However, if you feel the affliction is steadily increasing, or your quality of life is severely reduced, it may be wise to see a doctor. Seek medical advice at the latest when you notice that you can no longer manage the simplest things or that your daily work is suffering – before the blues turn into a general depression.

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