Is Depression Worse In The Winter? – Managing Fibromyalgia And The Cold

When it’s that time of year again, you know, when the last few brightly coloured leaves have fallen off the trees; there is a light dusting of snow on the ground, we are getting out the heavier coats, and are busy getting ready for Christmas, which is just around the corner. This can be a very enjoyable time of year for most for of us. But is depression worse in the winter?

What happens when the excitement of the holidays has passed and all the wonderful associated festivities, the weather outside really does get frightful and even if you wanted to go outdoors, you know the sun won’t be out for long. Usually, at this point, many of us (at least the ones that live in the northern part of the continent) are now more than just a little fed up of winter. When people suffer from fibromyalgia, these depressive ‘winter blues’ type symptoms can be magnified.

Many people find it hard to work out or resist that second slice of pumking pie; after all, who wants to eat healthy or go to the gym when they are in hibernation mode. We find ourselves looking forward to Feb 2nd hoping with all our might, that the ground hog does not see his darn shadow, or we look for any other indication we can, that spring really is on its way. Many people refer to this as the dreaded ‘winter blues’, but the truth is, for Fibromyalgia patients… it can be much worst.

Feeling SAD

Many individuals experience what’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. SAD is a type of depression, and those that have it usually experience it at the same time each year. For most of those that suffer from SAD, the symptoms start in late fall and continue through the winter months, then go away by spring. It is estimated that around 20% of Americans suffer from SAD. Signs and symptoms may include some or all of the following:

  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Low sex drive
  • Irritability
  • General lack of interest in once enjoyed hobbies and activities.

Notice how many of these symptoms are similar to symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, you may still get the ‘blues’ during this time of year and not actually have SAD. For example, there are times when I should exercise and eat healthy, but when the weather is less than desirable, it’s so much easier to be lazy on the sofa with Netflix and a bowl of comfort food… come on, we’ve all been there right? The thing is, depression is already a common symptom of fibromyalgia, so finding way to combat the winter blues is a must. And yes, there is good news! Whether you’re sick or just sick of the weather, here are some things you can do that may help brighten up your mood.

Vitamin D can help

Vitamin D deficiency is actually more common then you may think, especially during the winter months. Those with fibromyalgia should be taking this wonderful supplement anyway because it plays such a big role in the function of the muscles and mitochondria. While you should of course get your doctors ‘okay’ first, supplementing with vitamin D may be a very good idea. Although our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when sunlight hits our skin, unfortunately, deficiencies can occur when there is not much sunlight.

Not getting enough of this important fat-soluble vitamin has been linked to mood changes, fatigue and depression even in those who are not normally depressed. For best results a try a combination of vitamin D3, vitamin K2 and Magnesium. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, be sure to consume it with healthy dietary fats for better absorption and ask a doctor for an ideal daily amount.

Try to get natural sunlight

While, not always easy to do especially during the winter months, try to get outdoors as much as you can during the day while there is still sunlight. On days off work, go for a walk or try taking up a new winter activity like skating, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, tobogganing, even ice fishing. Be sure to take it easy during flare-ups or when you are experiencing too much pain. Be sure not to over do it. My sister and I tried snow shoeing for the first time a couple of winters ago, we spent most our time falling, then laughing at each other so hard we’d fall again but it was a lot of fun!

Full spectrum light therapy

For those days we simply cannot get outside, the weather is simply too cold or your fighting FMS pain, there is always light therapy boxes and lamps. I actually use one that I can wear on my head like a cap, and it seems to work well for me. Another one that works extremely well is the Verilux Happylight Liberty 10,000 Lux Natural Spectrum Energy Lamp. I have purchased these as Christmas presents for people, whom I know suffer from the winter blues, and they absolutely love it.

Light therapy works by mimicking the suns natural rays. The occasional use of tanning beds during the winter have also been reported to help with winter related depression. If you decide to look into a tanning bed, remember the goal is not to achieve a tan; just like the natural sun, too much exposure can be dangerous. 6 minutes or so of ultraviolet (UV) radiation to exposed skin is usually all that is needed.

Educate yourself about SAD

There are many great books on SAD

The best way to learn more about this disorder, how you can manage it or what you can do to help others, is to get more information. A great resource that I recommend to my clients is Winter Blues by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD. It is especially important to address the potential of SAD if you are currently living with fibromyalgia.

Hopefully you have enjoyed this post and if you or someone close to you suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, fibromyalgia or both and you would like to add something, please leave a comment. What I am dealing with at this moment is about 40 below weather and mounds of snow higher than my car. It Is no wonder why this can be a hard time of year to get through. Although many people suffer from this disorder, there are ways to beat it!

Hope you all have a pleasant ground hog day and all the best for the new year ahead!

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