The terms winter blues and winter depression are often used during the cold months. Now that the sun doesn't shine as often and it's cold and dreary, you just want to hole up at home - Many people feel disgruntled, sad and listless during the winter months. But how serious are these feelings, really? What's the difference between the winter blues and depression? And what really helps against the winter blues?
Winter blues or winter depression?
The terms winter blues and winter depression are often used as synonyms in connection with bad weather. While there are some differences, you can't clearly separate the two terms.
A winter blues has almost the same symptoms as a winter depression: listlessness, exhaustion, fatigue and sadness. Sufferers of winter blues withdraw and like to be alone, but can still enjoy and find pleasure in hobbies and activities. This enjoyment represents the difference from winter depression.
In winter depression, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), people suffer from depressive symptoms over a longer period of time and hardly find any joy in life. They often feel tired and lethargic, sleep more and have an increased appetite and cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. As a result, patients:with SAD may often experience weight gain during the cold months.
Statistically, it is mainly women and young adults who are affected. It is assumed that ten to 20 percent of the adult population in Germany suffer from mild winter depression.
Causes of the winter blues
When it gets dark, the body releases melatonin. The sleep hormone makes us tired and causes us to go to sleep at night. In daylight, the release of melatonin is inhibited. But when it gets dark as early as 4 p.m., the body also starts preparing for sleep earlier. This is one cause of fatigue and listlessness in winter.
The early darkness and associated fatigue can also cause us to take a nap more often or spend more time in bed. This can upset our day-night rhythm, disrupt our sleep and trigger depressive symptoms.
Serotonin levels in the body are also linked to depressive moods in the fall and winter. Serotonin, also called the happiness hormone, is closely linked to mental well-being. Studies have shown that serotonin production in the brain is directly related to the amount of sunlight present. So the lack of sunshine and bright days in the fall and winter can lead to a lack of serotonin in the brain and thus depressive mood swings.
Vitamin D deficiency can also be a reason for the dull mood. Due to the lack of sunlight, the body cannot produce enough of the vitamin D it needs. Since vitamin D is important for the production of serotonin in the brain, a deficiency can lead to winter depression.
Treatments for winter depression
If you are feeling the winter blues or suspect you are suffering from winter depression, you are probably wondering what you can do about it now. Actually, all treatments that are also used for depression will help. Therefore, you should definitely seek psychiatric or psychotherapeutic help. Apart from that, we have put together a few tips for you:
1. exercise and sports: because sports release the happiness hormones serotonin, dopamine and endorphin. Sports are sometimes a pain, but they can also be a natural mood booster.
2. daylight and fresh air: especially in the darker months, it's important to get enough daylight and maybe even a few rays of sunshine to counteract low moods. While you're out for a walk, listen to that podcast you've had on your list for so long. Because you probably won't get much sunlight during your winter walks, you should take a vitamin D supplement , especially in winter.
3. establish daily structure and improve sleep hygiene: Since the shifted day-night rhythm and resulting sleep problems can promote winter depression, you should pay attention to a regular daily routine and a consistent sleep rhythm, i.e. getting up and going to bed at the same time, especially in fall and winter.
4. maintain social contacts: Even if you would prefer to hole up at home all day, it is important to talk to friends about your emotional state and seek support. It can also help to get out of the house and do something nice together.
5 Light therapy: In this treatment, patients sit in front of a very bright light, which classically emits white light. The duration and intensity of the light is determined during a medical consultation. There are studies that show treatment success for mild to moderate winter depression. However, not with all participants. Light therapy can help, but success is not guaranteed.
If you suspect yourself of (winter) depression, these tips can help you feel better. However, you can only get a diagnosis of depression from a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. In any case, you should seek psychotherapeutic or psychiatric help if you are struggling with these symptoms. It is important to remember that therapy is always good for you, even if your symptoms are mild. Overcoming depression can take a lot of strength and work. Therefore, be sure to seek support from friends and experts.