The Swiss public broadcasting association (SSR) carried out a study about mental health of the swiss population during the second COVID-19 wave, and it recently presented its findings. The results are quite dramatic: While in spring only 26% of persons were describing their mood as “bad” or “very bad”, at the beginning of winter, 51% expressed such feeling. This state of mind probably does not only concern Switzerland but is quite universal. The isolation and economic uncertainty characterising the current situation negatively influence the mental health of the population, but this is not the only factor…
According to research, seasons have a great impact on the mental health too. Indeed, a study from Denmark, published in Journal of Affective Disorders (1) demonstrated a significant correlation between the patients mental state and minutes of sunshine, global radiation, length of daylight and temperature. This is in accordance with the theory that lack of light is a contributing factor for developing winter depression or winter blues. This condition became so recurrent that scientists gave it a specific name – seasonal affective disorders (SAD).
As individuals, we cannot really do anything to influence the weather on a global level, but there are some routines that everyone can put in place to improve her/his mental state and avoid falling into depressive states.
- Eat well
Early research has advanced from cross-sectional
epidemiological studies reporting associations between diet quality and mental
health outcomes, including depression and anxiety (2). Another meta-analysis
confirmed that dietary interventions significantly reduce depressive symptoms (3).
It demonstrated for example that deficiencies of some micronutrients can
contribute to the development of depression. The ones that have received
particular attention were omega-3 fatty acids, folate, cobalamin, and zinc.
In practical terms, ensuring the presence of the mentioned
micronutrients in your diet helps to prevent depressive symptoms or improve
your mental state when already installed. Some examples of food rich in these
- Omega-3 fatty acids are present in big
amounts in fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish,
such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines), nuts and
seeds or plant oils.
- Leafy green vegetables and legumes are full of folates
- Zinc is abundantly
present in oysters, red meat, and poultry. Whole grains and milk products are
also good sources of zinc.
- Finally, fruits and vegetable are full of antioxidants and fibre, and
should therefore be a basic part of a healthy diet.
Ensuring to have the mentioned elements in the diet as well as the variety of sources is a simple way that can help avoid depressive states.
2. Get some light or Vitamin D
Light therapy is the treatment of choice for patients with winter
blues (4). Exposure to the bright light in the morning demonstrated a great
level of efficiency and results in remission in two-thirds of patients with
mild depressive episodes. This is what everyone can already put in place to
improve his or her mood during winter:
- Try to get as much natural sunlight as
possible: even 15 minutes during lunch break is beneficial!
- Ensure your work environment is as light as
- When exercising, try to do it outdoors if
Sometimes it is not feasible or very difficult to get enough sun during the day, especially in winter and for populations living in Nordic countries such as Scandinavia or parts of North America. However, it was demonstrated that although the vitamin D (which production is mainly driving the beneficial effect of daylight) is produced endogenously when the skin is exposed to the sun, it can be also obtained exogenously from several natural food sources (oily fish, red meat, egg yolks etc.) or from food supplements (8). Indeed, a systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that taking vitamin D daily may improve depressive symptoms (6), or even prevent them if taken in advance before winter darkness sets in (7).
3. Talk and get advised!
Sometimes, psychological support is needed to help someone
overcome the symptoms of the winter blues. One of the methods proven to be efficient
is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which goal is to break down negative
patterns and problems that seem overwhelming by changing the way people think
about them (4).
Psychological support is not necessarily provided only by
specialists. Being surrounded by family and friends has a very positive impact
on the mood.
The social and psychological aspects of prevention and
treatment of depression winter blues are important as much as the physical ones.
Sometimes having relatives and friends around who take care of you can relieve
stress, provide additional motivation, and literally “heal” from any sadness.
Please take care of you and your close ones in this winter period, and do not let Blue Monday get you down.
- Molin J, Mellerup E, Bolwig T, Scheike T, Dam H. The influence of climate on development of winter depression. Journal of affective disorders. 1996 Apr 12;37(2-3):151-5.
- Jacka FN, Pasco JA, Mykletun A, Williams LJ, Hodge AM, O’Reilly SL, Nicholson GC, Kotowicz MA, Berk M. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. American journal of psychiatry. 2010 Mar 1;167(3):305-11.
- Firth J, Marx W, Dash S, Carney R, Teasdale SB, Solmi M, Stubbs B, Schuch FB, Carvalho AF, Jacka F, Sarris J. The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychosomatic medicine. 2019 Apr;81(3):265.
- Partonen T, Lönnqvist J. Seasonal affective disorder. CNS drugs. 1998 Mar 1;9(3):203-12.
- Anglin RE, Samaan Z, Walter SD, McDonald SD. Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British journal of psychiatry. 2013 Feb;202(2):100-7.
- Gloth 3rd FM, Alam W, Hollis B. Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 1999 Jan 1;3(1):5-7.
- Kerr DC, Zava DT, Piper WT, Saturn SR, Frei B, Gombart AF. Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry research. 2015 May 30;227(1):46-51.