Does Vitamin D, Seasonal Affective Disorder & Hygge Intertwine? Well here we are in the cloudy dreary days of winter. Like many of you, I find myself dreaming of those warmer months taking long walks soaking in the sun. This week we want to talk about how our moods can be affected during these months where we find ourselves spending so much more time inside (specifically this year when many of us are still quarantining).
Vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder
The relationship between vitamin d and the effect it might have on your mood.
We picked vitamin D because it is so important during this time of year. Last week was all about how non-optimal levels of vitamin D can have an effect on sleep duration, sleep quality and sluggishness. This week we wanted to cover the connection between vitamin D and your mood/happiness. The biggest moods tied to lack of vitamin D are major depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (1). I should mention that while there are many studies that look at the connection between vitamin D and mood, they have yet to come out and say, if you take this much vitamin D you will be cured of depression. Instead, they only notice that people with these conditions often also have vitamin D deficiencies. Only a combination of a healthy lifestyle, prescribed medication and self-care have proven to help fight against stronger and more severe cases of depression, anxiety and SAD. Because of this, we wanted to highlight seasonal affective disorder this week.
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD:
SAD is a seasonal affective disorder that tends to appear in late fall and continue until spring for those that are affected by it. In lighter cases this is also known as the winter blues. People who live farther away from the equator tend to be more affected because they get less sun and are inside more during the winter months (2). Women and young adults also tend to be more likely to have bouts of seasonal affective disorder (3).
SAD can bring on a number of different symptoms. A sense of fatigue is most common but is many times accompanied by oversleeping, chronically low moods and strong cravings for carbs. This can lead to decreases in productivity, withdrawing from others and weight gain (4).
A number of studies have correlated low levels of vitamin D to SAD (5, 6). One of the reasons that these two might be so closely tied is that when levels of vitamin D drop so does the serotonin in our brain (7). Vitamin D helps modulate this hormone that helps stabilize our mood, feelings of well being and happiness (8, 9).
Treatments for SAD
Light Therapy – This therapy can be accomplished with the help of a light box or sun lamp. To be clear this will not provide you with the necessary vitamin D. This is simply used to help regulate your daytime-nighttime clock in your brain. The light tricks your brain into thinking that it’s a sunrise when really it’s still dark out. I have one that I use from time to time. Especially after the holidays and after the time change that we have here in Indiana. My internal clock gets out of whack, so I use the lamp to either put makeup on or I turn it on while I do my morning journaling.
Nature – Spending time outside even if it’s cold out on a sunny day can give you not just vitamin D but can also help your overall mood by doing something fun like a hike or building a snowman. I hate the cold weather, but on those days that I do properly dress for going outside and go for a nice 15 minute walk, I am always in a better mood and more productive when I get back.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or CBT – Working with a professional can help you manage your feelings at this time and help steer you into finding ways to cope with winter that work for you! Many times therapy can help you cope with negative thoughts and help manage stress. Although I see many benefits to working with a professional, you can always try and see if you can find fun ways to cope with winter like researching the Art of HYGGE, as we will discuss later.
Prescription medications – A doctor may prescribe you an antidepressant if you have an extreme case of SAD. Other medications may help increase your serotonin levels or other hormonal imbalances you may be experiencing during SAD. There are some cases where this is necessary. However, if you feel like you have a slight case of the winter blues you can try raising serotonin levels through your food and exercise. (10, 11, 12)
Do other people in the world have seasonal affective disorders?
Absolutely, this is a worldwide issue. However, some countries, specifically the nordic countries, have found ways to master the art of embracing winter and the darkness. In doing so, many of these countries have dominated the world happiness index (WHI) for a number of years now.
What is the World Happiness Index?
The WHI is an organization that measures happiness, essentially. They ask many people around the world a set of questions in regards to economy, politics, weather, where you live and your environmental factors (pollution). Since its inception in 2011, a trend of Nordic countries to this day remains at the top. At least according to the trend results published as of 2020. 2021 has yet to be published (13).
Why are the Nordic Countries So Successful at combating SAD?
Some say that it’s genetics. That over years and years people that are living in the coldest and darkest of winters have genetically become more able to deal with SAD. (14)
Some people think that it is the nordic country’s mindset. The way they choose to perceive the winter. They love to stay active and be in nature. Even to the point of using floodlights from each parents cars to lighten the path of a park so their children can play. Or people going for long walks while on ski’s to walk their dog. Or others using a head torch to be able to go jogging. In their homes, they use lots of whites, blues, greens and pinks to mimic snow and the winter sky. They create moods using crystals with ambient lighting in living rooms and candles at the dinner table. (15)
Some say it’s in part to do with research. The light box or light therapy was created by a Danish physician. Also, there is a whole Danish research institute in Copenhagen Denmark working on the art of HYGGE (pronounced HOO-GA) and how it creates happiness. HYGGE is known for representing a feeling of coziness. (16)
The Art of Hygge:
Nowadays you’ve probably either heard of Hygge or have seen many inspired Instagram photos of chunky sweaters with a cup of coffee, fuzzy socks near a fireplace, candlelit dinners or a big bowl of warm deliciousness hugged by two hands in long sleeves.
This is the world of Hygge coming to America and why wouldn’t it? Denmark has been named numerous times as the happiest place on earth. However, according to the Founder of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and writer of The Little book of HYGGE, Maik Wiking says…”candles are perhaps more a manifestation of the hygge culture than they are a driver of it. I think it originates from something more fundamental, something about togetherness, equality, and community.” (16) Wiking also mentions in his book (yes, I have it), that HYGGE is for everyone.
These are the building blocks of HYGGE and possibly your own happiness. An opportunity to slow down, be mindful and take notice of the small things in your life (practicing gratefulness). This reframing of how we see the winter months can combat many of the symptoms of SAD.
I’m right there with you:
From someone who can attest to not being a huge fan of winter. I too could use some help with combating seasonal affective disorder, the cold and the dark. My way of finding what works for me is I try everything and see what sticks!
Since first learning about SAD, although I don’t feel like I’m a bad case by any means, I do find it harder to reach out to people during this time of year. I definitely sleep more and I also am SO hungry for all of my comfort foods. Plus, with covid I have found solace in staying indoors, writing and embracing coziness. But how long will it last? Will I eventually go stir crazy? Or suffer SAD a little deeper this year? I say no!
Since learning more about HYGGE and all of the HYGGE things, I now love this time of year. Christmas was always my favorite time anyways. However, here in Indiana, winter can be pretty manageable up until New Years day. Any cold or snow after that just seems unnecessary. As I live here in Indiana with no plans to move to a warmer climate anytime soon, I feel it’s time to practice happiness by making sure I get more vitamin D through the sun, food and supplements, stay active, and master HYGGE.
What is your favorite HYGGE thing to do? Leave your comment in a message below…
Not sure where to start? Here are a few things from, The Little Book of Hygge in no particular order..
- Candles everyday
- Hygge is for everyone
- Togetherness (about 4 people should do it-utilize zoom or Facebook messenger)
- Food & Drink-Comfort food and warm drinks made slowly to take in everything ( I say concentrate on the five senses…make it an experience for yourself).
- Casual is Key (I love good leggings, hair in a bun and oversized sweater combo).
- Home is where the heart is.
- Create a little nook.
- Have things around the house that bring nature in (like a wood picture frame or a new plant).
- Plush pillows and blankets
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Check out a few new Recipes from our happy eating series…
This week’s Challenge: Share your photos of 7 Days of Hygge in our Facebook group! Or send them to #happinessresetchallenge