Seasonal depression is dreaded like an outbreak of lice in a school – and it makes life difficult for many. In Québec, many people experience the everyday consequences of a lack of light and the arrival of colder days that keep us shut inside. As winter approaches, Familiprix, in collaboration with Vie de Parents, is switching into ideas mode to help you feel better and to get through this season, which tests your morale.
A to accept
First, to accept something, you have to understand it. Is what you’re feeling seasonal depression or just a case of the blues because the beautiful summer days have ended?
What we call seasonal depression is first of all a chronic illness, which recurs every year. And it is simply the body’s response when it lacks exposure to light. As the sunlight hours decrease, the hormonal system produces less serotonin, leading to a reduced mood. It varies from person to person, as some people are less bothered than others and children can also be affected. A drop in serotonin obviously causes great fatigue and a lack of energy, as well as sadness, increased appetite and anxiety, which has repercussions if this depression affects your professional activities.
Recognizing that your body needs more light to function is already a step towards simple and accessible solutions. Listen to yourself and respect your limits. If you feel that this is becoming a more serious problem, don’t hesitate to consult a psychotherapist. A professional will be able to help you find solutions.
L is for light
It's obvious: we have to satiate our bodies with light! One of the solutions is light therapy lamps, which are increasingly more popular. The method is very simple: sit in front of the lamp for 30 minutes every day to bask in a light that replicates the sun's rays. The result is greater enthusiasm and less fatigue. Ideally, begin the exposure a few weeks before the fall period and have regular, constant exposure, as needed. It may take 2 days for some and a few weeks for others1. There are also lamps on the market that simulate the dawn. They’re ideal for gentle mornings, especially for children who may have difficulty getting up when it’s still dark outside! Some models also provide an audible signal, such as bird sounds, to stimulate awakening. That’s awesome!
Another easily-accessible dose of light is the sun itself. Taking a walk at noon, away from the blue light of your screens, will have a very beneficial effect on your mood. Not only do you get a good breath of fresh air, but you also get a dose of natural light. You can also put on your running shoes to pick up the kids from school or participate in a walking club with friends twice a week. Giving yourself time to recharge your batteries is essential for everyone - and even more so if you are prone to seasonal depression.
D as in vitamin
The sunshine is synonymous with vitamin D. When autumn sets in, we enthusiastically adopt the cocooning mode with stews, apple pies and movie nights enjoying snack foods. But for those with seasonal depression, boredom brings a great need for comfort and a diet based almost entirely on things that are pleasurable. It’s a normal way to balance sadness and discomfort. This reflex must be taken into consideration and making an effort to maintain a healthy and balanced diet takes effort.
To revive your joie de vivre when eating, choose foods rich in vitamin D, such as salmon, herring, egg yolks, cow's milk and soy drinks. Add essential amino acids to your diet, as these give the body energy and produce hormones. Valine, one of the eight amino acids, is essential for mental focus, emotional stability and maintaining energy. Tryptophan, known as 5-htp, helps relaxation and reduces sugar cravings. Essential amino acids are found in many foods, such as eggs, edamame, shrimp, chicken, lentils, broccoli, cheese, wheat, corn and tree nuts.
Colours also help with morale. To offset the grayness of autumn, nothing is better than colourful salads, like Fattoush, which provides vitamin C through fruits and vegetables - synonymous with vitality. Tomato, red cabbage, red pepper, cauliflower, pineapple, orange and blackcurrant are some of your best allies!
You can also take vitamin D, C and essential amino acids as supplements to ensure that you have a daily dose.
Happiness and movement
Is happiness in bulk even possible? Yes and no. In fact, the recipe for happiness is well known, but making the concoction is everyone's job. Are you ready for a dose of well-being? Long ago researchers discovered the hormones responsible for healthy morale: endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin. You can mix and consume them without moderation!
Let's summarize them with their definitions:
They are the hormones of happiness. It is secreted during or after physical or psychological effort. Its role is to strengthen the immune system and maintain positivism. When the body releases endorphin, it stimulates another form of this hormone called dopamine, the pleasure hormone.
It is a neurotransmitter that produces a sensation of satisfaction and reward. This means that moving helps to stay positive, and this positivism increases pleasure and motivation, in addition to sleep and memory. The effects of dopamine are modulated by serotonin.
It is the hormone which causes excess seasonal affective disorder. But there's nothing bad about serotonin, it's even nicknamed the feel-good hormone! It helps transmit information and communicate with the brain. To increase the production of this feel-good hormone, spend time with friends and nourish your friendships. Social ties are a formidable weapon against depression. They help the body produce large amounts of endorphin, dopamine and serotonin. So being active with friends…is to be one step away from happiness, right?
It is the hormone mother-infant bonding and romantic attachment. We know its effect in women, especially in terms of their attachment to a baby, but we’ve discovered that it has impressive effects on men and their behaviour and emotions. Studies have confirmed links between oxytocin and men’s sense of trust, empathy, generosity, sexuality, marital and social bond, as well as in their responsiveness to stress.
Seasonal depression is not a “bad thing that will pass.” By taking into consideration all the elements that work for and against the disease, we can learn to live with it and to accept it. We can therefore see the arrival of autumn as another season with its share of surmountable challenges and a host of happy times.
1- https://www.lapresse.ca/vivre/sante/201511/17/01-4921730-luminotherapie-mode-demploi.php (Ms. Lavoie, cited in this article, is a psychologist)