How to survive the winter blues

This post is also available in Dutch.

Frozen lakes make great ice skating rinks, yet it’s still grey and rainy outside! Is your mood as gloomy as the weather? You may be suffering from the winter blues.

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Image by Melinda Shelton (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Are you really tired, gloomy, perhaps having concentration problems? Do you often suffer from these symptoms during winter? Then you might be suffering from winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (in doctor’s terms). You wouldn’t be the only one. A large part of the Netherlands (and England for that matter) is suffering from either the full, or mild version of what is called the winter blues.

What’s special about the winter blues is that these symptoms are completely absent during summer, but are sure to return every winter. There are two important reasons for this, both having to do with a lack of sunlight.

Wake up!
Firstly, sunlight serves as an efficient wake up call. Our biological clock needs a good chunk of light every morning to properly reset. Wake up! Time for a new day!

To best way to wake up is natural sunlight. It contains a lot of blue tinted light. The problem is that during winter we mostly travel to and from work in the dark, and spend all day inside. When we stay indoors, we’re only illuminated by yellowish light bulbs. This doesn’t offer us our daily portion of blue light, which helps us feel more awake and active (My earlierblogexplains all about why exactly this light is so special!).

Vitamin D
Not only does natural light not reach our eyes, it also doesn’t shine on our skin. The light that does reach us is in fact much weaker than the warm strong rays of summer. This will reduce the amount of vitamin D your skin will be able to produce. Low vitamin D is associated with gloominess and having trouble thinking and concentrating. Holding enough vitamin D is important for your the daily regeneration of your neurons. Low vitamin D can disrupt internal neurotransmitter balance in your brain.

Scientists from the United States discovered that at the latitude of Boston, sunlight was not strong enough to provide minimal vitamin D levels from the months of November to February. But hold on! Boston has the same latitude as the south of France! When we consider the latitude of the Netherlands, this problem begins in October and lasts all the way to March. So we are under producing vitamin D in large numbers!

Are pills the solution?
Luckily sunlight isn’t our only source of vitamin D; we can also acquire the stuff through our food intake. A few products that contain vitamin D are fatty fish and cheese (which works well for all the cheese-loving Dutchmen!) If you’re still suffering from winter blues, then there are also vitamin D supplements for sale at your local pharmacy.

We can also find some modern solutions for this blue light shortage. Special light bulbs exist that emulate the light spectrum of sunlight. These bulbs contain proper blue light. Another, perhaps more simple solution, might be to go outside more often when the sun is still up. You can opt to take a small walk during lunch, or maybe do the groceries on foot or by bike?

If all else fails, there might be one final option: our southern friends. In the sunny southern states of Europe (or America) winter blues is much less common. We could always follow the birds of the south for a few days…

This blog was written by Annelies. Edited by Jeroen.

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