Dealing With The Winter Blues
A lot of people tend to get depressed during the winter months and there are various reasons cited for this: the lack of daylight can cause the blues, whilst cold, damp weather is notorious for aggravating the symptoms of a number of illnesses and complaints. January and February are particularly hard to deal with after the run-up to Christmas. Here's a look at just some of the problems experienced at this time of the year, and some natural ways to help beat them.
Colds & Flu
We all know how much we dread the colds and flus usually associated with winter yet science suggests that these infections, which are commonly caused by viruses, are less of a direct result of the cold weather itself than people’s general reaction to cold weather – staying indoors. In the winter months it is sometimes difficult to motivate yourself to go outside and get some fresh air for the simple reason that it is just too cold. Instead, most of us prefer to stay indoors huddled in front of the television with the heating on high or the fire blazing. As a consequence of these warm and dry conditions and people’s close proximity to each other, viruses such as the ‘rhinovirus’ (the common cold) and the ‘influenza’ (flu) virus are able to thrive. Whilst various medicines and drugs are available to relieve the symptoms of such viruses, more natural approaches have been used for centuries. Elderberries, Garlic and Echinacea are amongst a large variety of organic ingredients which have long been used for immune support and are all now available in supplement form.
Specifically, winter weather can be a curse for arthritis sufferers; a stiff joint or dull ache during summer months may well become a shooting pain in the winter. If you have an arthritic condition, there is little you can do to avoid the aggravation that comes with bad weather. Wrap up affected areas very well if you must brave the elements and pay particular attention to your extremities by wearing warm socks and gloves and try to maintain good circulation by moving around more. If you know that your joints will be problematic, why not try to pre-book a holiday to warmer climes during the winter months? Although this sort of approach may temporarily solve the problem, it is extreme (not to mention expensive!). There are obviously less costly and more practical approaches for people with joint problems chiefly the numerous natural supplements now available such as ‘Glucosamine Sulphate’, ‘Chondroitin Sulphate’ and ‘MSM’ to name a few. But if symptoms persist, consult your doctor - a significant amount of arthritis cases are believed to go unreported as people choose to suffer in silence, unaware that they have a condition. Your doctor may then be able to prescribe the appropriate drugs to suit your condition.
Weight Control/Energy Levels
People with impaired mobility due to arthritis and similar conditions often refer to ‘Cabin Fever’ when inclement weather leaves them housebound. In fact, rain, sleet and snow will no doubt discourage all but the keenest of outdoor sports enthusiasts. As a result, the lack of exercise can bring about weight control problems and fatigue. In some cases, the combined effect of an expanding waistline, a drop in energy levels and the feeling of being penned in by wintery weather may lead to depression.
A lot of people tend to get depressed during the dark, winter months and there are various reasons cited for this: the effect of the clocks changing and the first sign of bad weather in October/November may initially cause the blues, whilst Christmas causes all types of stresses and strains on the mind, body and bank account. Stress from the latter tends to last long into the following year and added to New Year’s resolutions (chiefly dieting) and bad weather, makes January particularly hard to deal with.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
In some cases, winter depression is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of depression thought to be brought about by lack of exposure to direct sunlight during winter months. It is thought to be the result of a change in levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages between nerve cells) and/or hormones, especially ‘serotonin’ because its concentration in the brain varies from season to season (the lowest occurring during winter). Other chemicals possibly responsible for seasonal depression include the neurotransmitters ‘norepinephrine’ and ‘dopamine’, as well as the hormone ‘melatonin’. The female sex hormones ‘oestrogen’ and ‘progesterone’ may also be involved, since women are more vulnerable to SAD than men, especially in the years between puberty and menopause.
SAD can simply be a nuisance to live with or severe enough to affect your ability to function on a daily basis and has a variety of symptoms including any or all of the following:
Loss of energy/fatigue
Appetite changes (usually increased appetite and carbohydrate craving)
Loss of libido
Withdrawal from society
Premenstrual syndrome (worsens or occurs only in winter)
If you feel depressed (at any time of year), it’s important to talk about it but people with persistent low mood should consider counselling or attending a therapist. Your GP will be able to refer you, and may also suggest a course of medication that will help ease any symptoms of despair. Aside from prescribed antidepressants, many people find that supplementing their diet with products containing 5-HTP or St John’s Wort helps to maintain levels of serotonin in the body thereby giving relief to the symptoms of depression.