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Winter mental health cat

Is it Time for a Winter Mental Health Check-up?

Jan 18, 2022 Healthy Living Share:

After the Christmas decorations have been packed away and the busy holiday gatherings have ended, the cold, dark days of winter stretch ahead. It’s normal to feel a bit of an emotional letdown in these quieter months. But for some people, a few days of winter blues can stretch into depression.

While many people like to make resolutions to improve their physical health, winter is a great time to check in on your mental health.

What causes the winter blues?

Many people experience feelings of sadness or depression during the winter months. Although no one knows exactly what causes this, there may be several contributing factors. In the winter, many people tend to give up habits that support good mental health, including spending time outside, getting consistent exercise, and connecting with others.

In the winter, we tend to cocoon in our homes. While this is certainly cozy, this tendency often causes people to stop doing activities that support their mental health. The colder weather may lead you to give up your daily walk or run, and your calendar may be bare after a full holiday schedule.

The shorter days of winter can also contribute to feelings of depression. With fewer hours of natural light and a greater reliance on artificial light indoors, your circadian rhythms (biological clock) can be disrupted. These rhythms impact the release of hormones in your body and, when disrupted, can lead to an imbalance in several key hormones, including those related to sleep and stress.1

Less time in the sun also impacts your body’s ability to produce Vitamin D. Because your main source of Vitamin D is the sun, it can be especially difficult to naturally source this vitamin in the winter when the days are short. Vitamin D aids your body in the production of melatonin, which helps keep your sleep regulated, and serotonin, a chemical in your brain that boosts your mood. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder.2

In the past few years, Covid has also led to increased isolation and stress, especially during winter waves of the virus. Whether it’s quarantines, remote work, or fewer social interactions, nearly two years of Covid-19 have changed life for everyone. Isolation, stress, burnout, and grief can all lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Some may be also dealing with the long-term effects of post-Covid conditions, which can include mental health struggles.

Things you can do today to beat the winter blues

If you’re feeling a little down this winter, there are several things you can do to support your mental health and boost your mood.

  • Get outside. When the sun is shining, try to get out in it. You may need to bundle up, but layering up in some cold-weather gear is worth it for your mental health. Consider taking your lunch break outside during the warmest, sunniest part of the day.
  • Exercise. While exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re not feeling your best, moderate exercise has been proven to relieve stress and release feel-good chemicals into your body.
  • Connect with others.Covid-19 has changed the way we connect with one another. If you’re not comfortable gathering in person, schedule a phone call with a friend or family member.
  • Prioritize sleep. Sleep is key to keeping you well, both physically and mentally. Make sleep a priority by waking up at the same time each day, trying to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, and minimizing the use of electronics before bed.
  • Take a Vitamin D supplement. Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, especially in the winter months. There isn’t enough Vitamin D in a multivitamin, and you can’t get it naturally from your food, so you’ll need to take a Vitamin D supplement. Try taking a 5,000 IU supplement daily.

Many of these habits will benefit your immune system as well as your mental health.

When to get help from your doctor

Sometimes the winter blues may not be winter blues, but rather seasonal depression. One common misconception about depression is that depressed people are always sad or crying. While depression can be a generalized sadness that lasts for most of the day, sadness isn’t the only symptom of depression.

Other signs you might be depressed include:

  • Decreased energy and feelings of sluggishness
  • Lack of interest in things that you used to enjoy
  • General sense of apathy or hopelessness
  • Brain fog (difficulty thinking or remembering things)
  • Changes to your sleep patterns, including feeling like you need to sleep more or not wanting to get out of bed
  • Experiencing new food cravings, especially cravings for sugar or carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

If you experience these feelings most of the time for two weeks or more, it's time to call your doctor. Your winter blues may be depression. And if you commonly experience these symptoms every winter, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Getting help isn’t a sign of weakness. You don’t need to work through depression on your own or try to fix your feelings by yourself. When something in your body isn’t working properly, you get help and go to the doctor. Getting help for your mental health is no different. Your doctor is there to support you, let you know that you’re not alone, and help you feel better.

Start by visiting your primary care doctor. But if you don’t have one, an urgent care doctor can help you too. Your doctor will help you develop a holistic plan to treat your depression. This plan may include the use of pharmaceutical interventions as well as the use of light therapy, talk therapy or counseling, or other lifestyle interventions.

MedHelp doctors are here to help. Here at MedHelp, we care about your total health: the health of your mind and spirit as well as your body. We have primary care doctors here to help you for the long haul, but our urgent care doctors are also here to help seven days a week. If you're feeling depressed, don't wait to get help.

Don't Wait to Get Help

MedHelp doctors are committed to treating your spirit as well as your body. If you're experiencing feelings of depression, visit a MedHelp Urgent Care clinic today. We're open seven days a week, and walk-ins are always welcome.


References:

1 Walker, W., Walton, J., DeVries, A., et. al. Circadian rhythm disruption and mental health. Translational Psychiatry. 10, 28 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398...

2 NIH: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved 10 January, 2022. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/heal...

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