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Got the winter blues? Here are three researched methods to help

As you get off the bus, the cold grip of winter sets in. You feel tired and lifeless, yet so mercilessly whipped by the icy wind that seeps through your jacket. Arriving home, you see the endless pile of paper waiting to get finished before you can stop thinking about work – not even the possibility of watching your favorite show cheers you up anymore. This is going to be one long winter.

If you can relate to the above, you might have the winter blues or something even worse: Seasonal depression and seasonal affective disorder (ironically abbreviated as SAD) are more than just winter unhappiness – they're serious conditions with symptoms such as feeling depressed daily and being in a constant state of fatigue. Even if you don't have seasonal depression or SAD, it is easy to improve your mental health with the following researched methods. If you feel that your fatigue is serious, please seek immediate help from a medical professional.

The exact reason for why mental health takes a toll during the winter is unclear, but it is believed to be linked to less sunlight: this decrease disturbs the biological clock affecting mood, sleep, and hormones. The darkness also produces more melatonin, which makes you sleepier and thus more tired especially during the winter months.

Make sure you're stocked up on Vitamin D

As days get shorter, you also get less sunlight, which affects your serotonin levels. While this can be compensated by going outside (such as taking walks during the weekends), a consistent intake of vitamin D is essential as a deficiency can lead to serotonin and mood changes: Sunlight is a big source of vitamin D although doctors are now recommending a year-round supplementation of vitamin D for better health.

Depending on where you live, doctors tend to only recommend an intake of 10–25 μg as vitamin D is harmful in high amounts. However, new research indicates that a bigger intake of vitamin D might be optimal for ideal health. I'm not a medical professional myself but I've recently started taking about 50 μg (up from my previous 25 μg) and I've noticed a clear contrast to my usually poor energy levels at this time of year. If you're not taking Vitamin D supplements at all, 10–25 μg might be a safe amount to start with.

Phototherapy (Light therapy) is backed up by research

Doctors recommend light therapy as a first line of treatment for SAD patients. It takes a few days to a few weeks until you notice its effects, light therapy aims to mimic the natural outdoor light. This apparently causes a change in the brain chemicals that are linked to mood. If you want to try phototherapy, it is essential that you buy the right device and use it properly to benefit from it.

If you struggle with your fatigue, you should consult your doctor for light therapy from your doctor. The general guidelines listed on the reputable Mayo Clinic website indicate that you need to use a 10,000-lux light box device for 20-30 minutes daily at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters).

Many mistakenly buy an alarm clock style wake up light that sits on their nightstand, expecting it to help. If you think about it, you can't even compare the effects of that to a bright 10,000 lux light shining directly in your face for 30 minutes. Be smart – talk to a doctor and follow their instructions.

Put extra effort into habits and hobbies and know when to seek professional help

People start to isolate when they get depressed, which is why you should try to socialize and maintain your habits during the fall and winter months. Getting more sunlight is a very good idea when looking to improve your symptoms, so regular walks or just simply going outside help tremendously. Depression is an inhibiting disease, so the more you stay home alone the bigger the chances are that your mental health worsens.

If you're feeling really fatigued and depressed, don't downplay your well-being. Seasonal depression and SAD are very serious conditions and one of the most effective ways to treat them is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy. Yes, actual therapy is the solution, even though your condition would "only" be a bad form of the winter blues. If you're worried, talk to a doctor and they will know how to help you best.


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