Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
As we approach the shortest and darkest days of winter and the weather starts to shift, it’s common to feel more lethargic, unmotivated, hungry and down. Some people are better able to adapt to the winter season than others, and this year in particular you may find that some of your usual strategies like going to the gym, maintaining your social life, and taking a sunny vacation are not available. To prevent you from falling back on less positive habits like extra alcohol and baking, I want to share some very simple recommendations for the winter blues.
(1) Optimize your vitamin D levels
Unless you are supplementing, vitamin D levels start to decline in October as the days shorten and you are exposed to less sunlight. Quite simply, a low vitamin D level is associated with low mood. For a Northern latitude like Toronto, a safe dose of vitamin D is 3000 IU daily for adults and 1000 IU daily for children over the age of 1. Do not supplement with higher amounts without medical supervision and testing – vitamin D can be toxic in high amounts.
I highly recommend testing your levels through the winter at least once to ensure that you are taking the optimal amount of vitamin D for your – requirements and absorption can vary tremendously from person to person.
(2) Exercise regularly
Aerobic exercise has been found to be as effective in boosting mood as antidepressants in several studies. This winter in particular, you may need to get creative in how you do your exercise with gyms being closed and less access to personal trainers. Here are some suggestions:
Find an outdoor winter activity that you love – winter running, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or skating.
Check out your favourite gym and workout studio’s website – most are offering excellent online programs right now that you can do at home with minimal equipment. You’re also supporting a local business this way!
Consider purchasing some workout equipment for home – an exercise bike, weights, bands, yoga mat, etc. You really don’t need much space to exercise at home.
(3) Use a light box
Light boxes or “SAD lamps” have become much more affordable and easy to use. If you’re purchasing one, look for 10,000 LUX, and one that filters out UV radiation so it’s safe for your eyes.
Using a light box is simple – it is positioned at eye level, 12-24″ away from you while you have breakfast or begin working in the morning. Leave it on for just 30 minutes in the morning – ideally within the first hour of waking up.
Light therapy can help you to feel better within a week or two, and should be used consistently during the darker months.
I hope this short article gives you some simple tools to support your mood over the winter months. If you’re already doing this, and it’s still not enough there is more we can investigate and support. Beginning with lab testing for adrenal hormones, thyroid, and nutrient deficiencies, and also supporting hormone balance, stress management and sleep. Please reach out for an appointment if you need more support.