As days grow shorter in the Pacific Northwest, many experience some level of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that symptoms of SAD include a loss of energy, the inability to concentrate, and feelings of hopelessness.
Blame our gray skies and the resulting lack of vitamin D. According to UW Medicine, the winter sun in our soggy corner of the nation never gets high enough to coax our skin to produce enough of this important nutrient. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, builds strong bones and muscles, and bolsters the immune system. A 2014 study published in Nutrients notes that Vitamin D “protects against the depletion of dopamine and serotonin” and that a deficiency “is associated with an 8%–14% increase in depression.”
Diet can compensate for what the sun can’t provide, but some foods rich in vitamin D—sardines, tuna, and beef liver—are not staples of the American diet (though salmon is a healthy Northwest favorite). If the changing seasons has you feeling down, there are steps you can take to compensate for the grayness of a Pacific Northwest winter.
The most direct method of increasing vitamin D is to take a supplement. There are two types of Vitamin D and the type naturally created in the body through sun exposure is D3. A D3 supplement is fat-soluble, meaning it is dissolved and absorbed into fatty tissues in the body. Check with your Kinwell clinician to determine the best dose of D3.
Light therapy is another treatment. The NIMH notes that light therapy has been used to treat winter-pattern SAD since the 1980s. The treatment is simple: Sit next to a bright white light for about thirty-minutes every morning. For more information on light therapy, see this article in Psychology Today. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking to your clinician before using starting a light therapy regimen and purchasing a light that is designed to treat SAD.
Warmth is another way to ward off the winter doldrums. According to Britain’s National Health Service, staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. A warm home also encourages more activity and exercise, another way to elevate your feelings. If going for a run or bike ride in the cold doesn’t sound appealing, consider joining a gym for the winter months, or buying a treadmill or stationary bike.
Even as we make our homes bright and comfortable, it’s important not to isolate ourselves. Being socially active and connecting with others can boost good feelings and lower the risk of mental illness. Engage in social settings by volunteering, attending community events, or taking a class. Even a video call with a loved one can decrease feelings of isolation.
It’s important to know the differences between chronic and seasonal depression. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the national 988 Crisis Lifeline. If you are having difficulties coping with the dark days of winter, have a conversation with your primary care clinician. Just call 833-411-5469 or set up an appointment through your MyChart account.
In addition to effective changes to your lifestyle, Kinwell clinicians can recommend medications or the expertise of a behavioral health specialist. Together, we can find the right combination of treatments to deal with seasonal or persistent depression and help you stay positive through the long gray.