Winter depression: symptoms and tips

It is estimated that about 20 percent of Germans suffer from winter depression . Short days, a lot of darkness and cold temperatures are not only extremely uncomfortable, but also make it hard for the psyche of many people. The mood is at its lowest and there is no drive. For several months, such a winter depression affects the quality of life of those affected. If you recognize the symptoms, you can become active. We'll give you tips on how to effectively fight them without having to wait for spring.

Winter depression: definition and symptoms
What is popularly known as winter depression, scientists and doctors know under the name seasonal dependent depression (SAD) . For the first time, this form of depression was diagnosed in 1987. However, a little differentiation is needed at this point.

Bad mood in the fall and winter months is not automatically synonymous with a winter depression - and a winter depression should not be confused with a classic depression .

Seasonally Affective Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder is usually referred to only when these criteria are met:

The depressed mood lasts for at least two weeks
it can hardly be improved and
it occurs in winter or between autumn and spring.
Fortunately, such a serious form of winter depression is more of an exception. More often one encounters a weakened variant - winter blues. This passes faster and shows in other symptoms. Those affected suffer from a bad mood and lack of motivation , but they are not prone to depressive thoughts.

Many experience slight mood swings in the dark season , which are no cause for concern. However, if these become more severe and affect the affected person's life increasingly, one should recognize the winter depression as what it is: a clinical picture .

Test: Am I affected?
Winter Depression Test: Is it really over again?Many people do not want to believe that they suffer from winter depression, lie to themselves and make something to friends or colleagues or just play them down . A mistake that becomes dangerous, especially if it is not a seasonal depression.

Experts believe that only every tenth depression is really a temporary winter depression. With this quick and easy test , you can get a better sense of whether you are an SAD.

Do the symptoms only appear during the winter months?
Have you recently gained weight and longed for sweets?
Could you spend the whole day in bed and sleep?
Have you been suffering from a low mood for quite some time?
Do you want to spend the whole day alone in the winter?
Do you think that you always feel much better in the summer?
Can you barely get up to doing anything during the day?
Do you have problems with your work during the winter and do less?
Have you had similar problems in the winter in the past few years?
Please bear in mind that such a self-test can by no means replace a medical or psychological examination , but merely provides a first clue.

Conflicting signs, such as heavy weight loss, may indicate a classic depression that needs to be treated.

Hotline help in case of need
Sometimes it is not alone. But it does not have to. Friends and family are often overwhelmed in such situations. Anyone in severe crisis should seek professional help .

We recommend as the first point of contact the family doctor or the so-called crisis service . Under the nationwide standardized telephone number 116 117 the medical emergency service of the Kassenärztlichen associations is reached. In case of emergency, please contact a psychiatric clinic or the emergency doctor at 112.

Another possibility is the German Depression Aid . You can enter your location on their homepage and use the search function to display the nearest crisis services and advice centers .

In addition, telephone counseling is available free of charge around the clock at 0800/1110111 .

Those affected should not simply dismiss these traits and persuade themselves that it will be uphill in a few days or weeks. Although depression may occur in winter, it can be a classic depression that does not disappear by itself.

Therefore, take the signs seriously and talk to your doctor if you can identify the most common symptoms of winter depression :

lack of motivation
Bad mood
Retreat from the social environment
difficulty concentrating
Especially in the winter depression is the increased appetite , especially on sweets and carbohydrates, which usually brings with it an increase in weight. Other forms of depression tend to be associated with loss of appetite.

Who is affected by winter depression?
Basically, winter depression can affect anyone, but researchers assume that it is a rather rare form of depression. The numbers are not clear, but most sources estimate that less than five percent of the population suffer.

However, it must be remembered that these percentages are only the cases that were actually recorded , because they either went to the doctor or were honest enough in surveys.

However, depression and depressive moods are a taboo topic, many do not even want to admit their own winter depression. It can therefore be assumed that the actual number is significantly higher. It is also striking that women are more frequently affected by winter depression than men.

This coincides with studies of classic depression. The reasons for this are believed to be that women are generally more likely to seek help than men.

Can a winter depression be prevented?
Those who suffer from winter depression usually have a regular and recurring problem. Always in the dark season, it starts again from the beginning, the mood sinks into the cellar. The question arises: Can a winter depression be prevented?

The good news is: Yes, that is indeed possible. Although the weather conditions and the course of the sun can not be changed, you can take advantage of the soothing power of the sun's rays through a light therapy .

Light therapy works as simple as it is effective: The brain controls the production of hormones through the information that it receives from the eye - more precisely, the cells in the retina. The bad light conditions of winter say the pineal gland, in which melatonin is produced: It is night .

In light therapy, the retina is irradiated with a strong light source (between 2,500 and 10,000 lux) for between 30 and 60 minutes a day . The result: your brain receives the information that the sun is shining, breaks down melatonin and instead produces more serotonin. Many patients show significant improvements after a few days.

Details should be clarified with your doctor. Ideally, you should start this preventive measure as soon as possible and not only when the mood is low. The light therapy is effective, but it does not have to get that far.

Causes: What causes them?
Winter depression Causes: What triggers themThe period during which seasonally dependent depression appears in most cases is not by chance. The cause behind the winter depression is mainly the poor lighting conditions at this time of year. In the morning it gets late, in the evening it is already dark again. The lack of sunlight then affects the hormone production.

Specifically, the body responds to the prevailing darkness by increasing the release of the sleep hormone melatonin .

Normally, this regulates sleep, is in the evening - when it gets dark - distributed and broken down in the morning, so we wake up. During the winter months it is often so dark throughout the day that the hormone balance gets mixed up and a melatonin excess persists .

Many feel tired, exhausted and exhausted during the day , just like a spring fatigue.

The second problem: the body produces additional melatonin from the bit of serotonin that is released in daylight and is one of the hormones of happiness.

A true vicious circle - the happiness wears off and is replaced by bad mood, listlessness and distrust. Frequently, the happiness hormones are provisionally sourced from other sources . Preferably by sugar and sweets. This leads to weight gain and also slows down the Elan.

Improvement promises spring, when the sun finally shows more often and longer and brings the hormone production back into order. To be able to exclude unequivocal organic causes such as hypothyroidism or other causes such as a lack of vitamin D , blood and ultrasound examinations may be necessary.

Tips against the winter depression
Those who notice the signs of winter depression should take action and do something about it. We've collected nine tips to help with winter depression:

Air and daylight
If the lack of light confuses the hormone balance, the antidote should start at exactly this point. Experts recommend that you spend at least 30 minutes a day in the fresh air - ideally, of course, in the light hours. Even in bright sunshine, you should do without sunglasses as much as possible in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible through the receptors of the eyes.

This point is often difficult for working people in winter. On the way to work it is still dark and on the way back the sun has long gone down. You should not be deterred by this: use your breaks during working hours to get out . When it's dull outside, many choose to just stay indoors or, even worse, at their desk. Do not make that mistake, but use the time to recharge light and fresh air.

Also read:

Walking : The mind wanders and learns
If daylight and fresh air alone are not enough to improve your mood or if, despite all your good intentions, you do not have enough time, you can help with the right lighting. It is recommended that the above-mentioned light therapy, preferably over a longer period of time , in which the victims are targeted and exposed after a certain rhythm light of different wavelengths. The complementary (!) Use of a daylight lamp in your own household is also recommended.

You should inform yourself about the use of appropriate lamps in advance or talk to a doctor immediately . If used incorrectly, such light therapy can also lead to problems such as insomnia and increased stress .

Also read:

Ergonomic lighting in the workplace: right light
To dye
That colors affect the human mood is no secret. The mood-enhancing and -stabilisierende effect of colors can also be used in a winter depression. Yellow or blue are excellent here, while red could trigger strong - and unwanted - emotions. You can and should use this knowledge specifically to incorporate positive colors into your daily routine .

Although this is not possible everywhere, with your clothes, decoration in the office, candles, flowers or even the color of a picture on the wall , you can influence the colors around you. Take advantage of these opportunities to counteract the winter depression.

Also read:

Color Psychology: How colors affect us
In addition to colors, you can also use fragrances - for example through the use of oils - to stabilize your mood . Lavender is said to have a soothing effect, while fragrances such as orange or lemon stimulate and positively influence circulation and mood.

The effect of fragrances can be combined especially with relaxing habits, such as a bath in the evening or a scented candle that light you when you read a book. Important: Fragrances - like colors - are only suitable for supporting other activities , but they are by no means sufficient.

Also read:

Fragrance Knigge: How smells work
People affected by winter depression often suffer not only from lack of motivation but also from increased insecurity . Both symptoms can be counteracted by a clear daily structure. Fixed appointments and processes help to keep the activity level high and provide security. Certain open spaces are important, however, so that the structures do not become a burden.

Therefore, you should not succumb to temptation on vacation and simply do nothing. The idea may sound pleasant, but make you particularly vulnerable to a possible winter depression. Keep clear times and make use of structures to avoid falling into a hole.

Also read:

Timeboxing: productive through clear times
However, the structure should not be too monotonous. With variety, the dreary season and the associated mood can also counteract. Relaxing evenings at home can relax and are certainly an alternative, but you should still do something regularly and get involved in activities .

Meet with friends, have a snowball fight (weather permitting), go out for dinner, visit the upcoming Christmas markets in your area ... Distract yourself from the monotony and become active. Instead of depressive mood, you change your mind and use the season to have fun.

Also read:

Changing habits : Get out of the routine!
Make sure you have a balanced and nutritious diet. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables provide the necessary strength and energy. The adequate supply of all important vitamins and nutrients also promotes well-being and allows regeneration - also the hormone balance. But of course sweets are also allowed, for example chocolate, which is known to make you happy.

Also read:

Eat healthy: Everything you need to know
Since a winter depression affects the quality of life of those affected sustainably, doctors recommend to increase them specifically. One possibility: what exactly you do is only secondary. The key is that you like it, make you happy and do you good . Even short moments of conscious enjoyment are worth gold in a winter depression.

The difficulty here is really to do something. It is not enough to undertake anything or to persuade oneself to take more time for beautiful things. Make nails with heads. The more concrete the planning, the better. It is helpful to include friends or family members right in the planning . So this becomes more binding.

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Quality of life: that's how it can be increased
A level stronger than exercise in general is sports. It releases high levels of happiness hormones, the physical effort also helps to keep the weight despite the increased grip to sweets and typical rich winter food.

It's best to do sports in the open air - even on dull days you get even more light (and therefore vitamin D!) Than in the gym or on the home stretch bench. Especially suitable are cycling, jogging and Nordic walking.

Also read:

Right running: That's why jogging is so healthy
Short break against winter depression
Short break against winter depressionThe constant darkness is causing you more and more and the winter depression is becoming more and more noticeable? A short break in the sun can help to fill up the light and replenish the energy reserves.

Double advantage: short trips are cheap and require a few days of vacation, if you use, for example, so-called bridging days .

However, you should decide (and book) until the end of January. Many travel portals - such as Mydays - currently offer hefty discounts of up to 50 percent for early bookers and still have many short trips on offer.

Which goal you choose, of course, depends on your personal preferences - only sunny it should be there at this time of year to really escape the local light conditions .