Winter Blues and How to Combat the Lack of Vitamin D

Michigan winters can seem to stretch on endlessly, to the point where it’s hard to imagine that the sun will ever come out again. While some welcome the blankets of crystalline snow, cozy sweaters, and Christmas lights, others lament the oncoming effects of winter. For some, winter’s gloom results in sadness and lethargy that, when severe enough, can be diagnosed as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Therapist Stephanie Huizenga provided some insight on seasonal affective disorder. SAD is mainly considered to be an effect of underlying depression or anxiety that can worsen in winter due to the lack of sunlight. In sunnier weather, our bodies absorb vitamin D, stimulating what are known as happiness chemicals – serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

UV light has a span of approximately eight weeks between its peak use in the body and the onset of winter blues, and it’s theorized that “stocking up” on sunlight during the summer may help to retain its beneficial effects for a bit longer. When asked about good methods for coping, Huizenga recommended keeping busy with hobbies and resisting isolation by keeping up with regular social connections throughout the winter.

The number one thing recommended for SAD and generic winter blues is the use of an artificial UV light. There are no harmful effects with regular use, so no worries of sunburn! Light units can be purchased online from a variety of vendors. The UV light boosts your body’s ability to create vitamin D and aids in the production of those feel-good chemicals. Vitamin D supplements are also helpful.

Both plants and pets can also improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Creating a green space in your home has a cathartic effect similar to taking a nature walk. Research is showing that plants lessen physiological stress, and some doctors are recommending them as a treatment. The love and companionship of pets is known to help with feelings of loneliness, so if you’ve been considering a new furry friend, winter may be the time to act! For those who aren’t in a position to care for their own pet, humane societies and “cat cafés” welcome volunteers to come in and show their animals some love.

When it comes to hobbies and activities, exercise can release endorphins that lift the spirits. Yoga, in particular, is found to have both mental and physical benefits. Paired with meditation, it boosts immunity, lowers blood pressure, and helps with sleep. Warmth is one part of summer that many people miss, so indulge in it. If treating yourself to a weekend trip isn’t in the cards, saunas and hot tubs have been said to be a great relief during the winter months.

A tip that may seem a bit odd but I’ve found to work well is to treat yourself like a “Sim” –  or any such game where you complete basic daily tasks for your character. Dissociation can cause fogginess in daily life as well as a disconnect between mind and body so that simple things like cleaning the kitchen, shaving, eating breakfast, or making a phone call can slip through the cracks. Paying attention to your needs is essential, as is being mindful of time spent in a haze. Be aware of your body. Make a mental command to do an activity and try to follow up immediately.

Dealing with seasonal blues is difficult, but recognizing that many people are facing the same problem – probably even some of your friends – and using some simple coping strategies can help. Keep yourself engaged, and remember, no matter how distant it seems, the sun will come again!