winter blues

4 Proven Methods For Fighting The Winter Blues

Seasonal Depressive Disorder, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), occurs in parts of the world where we experience lower sunlight levels at certain times of the year. It typically occurs in the late fall and winter, but it is possible to see it in the spring and summer as well.

Symptoms include:

  • Inattentiveness
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Fatigue

You may have experienced this at one time or another in your life, depending on where you live and seasonal changes, but in order for you to have the “disorder” the symptoms must occur in succession each season over at least two years. There must also be a period after when the symptoms lift for a long period of time related to the increase in sunlight you experience from seasonal changes. It is literally a depression due to climate and seasonal weather changes!  

There are several theories as to how this occurs, including sunlight deficiency and hormonal changes. One theory is that the large change in sunlight reduces the amount of serotonin that we naturally produce, and also increases the amount of melatonin levels in our bodies. This changes our circadian rhythm.

Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D is also essential for serotonin levels in the blood. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps with mood and sleep. Adequate dietary vitamin D as well as exposure to sunlight which converts vitamin D into the active form “calciferol”, help to keep up those serotonin levels. If you aren’t sure if your Vitamin D level is adequate, a blood test can be ordered from your doctor to determine the level. Although above 30 ng/ml is generally considered adequate, but optimal ranges for an individual can be between 40-80ng/ml. There are vitamin D receptors on most cells in the body, it’s involved it lots of processes from depression as we already mentioned, but also bone and teeth health, cognition, immune system regulation, and more! So why just be adequate, when you can aim for optimal.  

Take Melatonin 

Melatonin, which is a hormone involved in circadian rhythm, is increased as a response to lack of light. This happens in the winter months with shorter daylight hours available, as well as those grey days that happen in many places like the Midwest. Less bright light allows higher production of melatonin, leading to feeling sleepy or lethargic. Some studies show that taking a low dose of melatonin like 0.5-3mg in the evening helped to correct the “sleep phase delay” that happens as a result of the higher production of melatonin left over during the day. This in other words, helps to reset the clock.  

Light Therapy Can Augment The Lack Of Sunlight

Another important factor in resetting that circadian clock and reducing the naturally higher levels of melatonin produced in the darker winter day is the use of a therapeutic light box. Using a therapeutic light box of 10,000 lux immediately upon waking has been studied and used over and over again with good effect (up to 75%). It also avoids the use of medications or supplements. To use a light box, it should be 10,000 lux, although some users find the brightness uncomfortable, and use a lower intensity for longer periods of time. There are some light boxes that offer different intensities to use, as well as automatic timers. Keep the light box 12-14 inches away from your face and keep it off to the side. You aren’t looking directly into the light box (just like you don’t look directly at the sun!). You can start with lower times as you adjust to sitting with it on and can use up to 1 hour. 

Light Therapy

WARNING! If you have bipolar disorder, light boxes can induce mania and hypomania, but you can still use them, just use for shorter intervals, and monitor your mood. 

Get Off The Couch And Start Exercising

Exercise is another important intervention for Seasonal Depressive Disorder. While exercise alone is a known intervention for depression, for seasonal depression, pairing it with light therapy works best. Choosing exercise that has positive social aspects is also shown to boost mood even more. This could be anything from having a gym buddy, to taking exercise classes with a group of people. Exercises that are aerobic, high intensity interval training, weightlifting, yoga and tai chi all count! So, you can choose what suits you best. The average amount of exercise to benefit in one Harvard study was 35 minutes a day (about 4 hours each week). For each additional 35 minutes a day, you can further decrease your chances of depression. You don’t have to start out at 35 minutes a day. Start small, and increase your exercise as tolerated. You want this to be a positive addition to your life, not a punishing one.  

Exercise is just one of the many things that our product MindScout suggests to help our customers live better lives.

Exercise Buddy

If you feel like you are fighting the winter blues each season, try some of the tools above! If you still notice some lack of motivation, focus, drive. Remember, humans have evolved to stay in and conserve in the winter! Show yourself some kindness, take time for self-care, reflection and adequate rest and recovery. Spring is right around the corner. 

We would love to help you with your next your next digital health product. Contact us for a free consultation!

LFT Health discusses self care with anxiety

Anxiety – Normal Or Not? 6 Ways To Cope With Either

We all have anxiety. Anxiety serves an essential function in humans. Without anxiety, we would be extinct. Three elements of anxiety are: 

  • psychological – what we experience in our minds, 
  • physiological – how our bodies respond 
  • behavioral – what actions we take.

In this blog, I will review normal anxiety that we have all felt compared to pathological anxiety. Pathological anxiety is the unhealthy and life-impacting anxiety type. We will review responses in the body, some general mental health care, and finally 6 tools to deal with anxiety, which help with both normal anxieties, as well as pathological anxiety.  

Words that describe anxiety
What words do you use to describe anxiety?

Why Do We Have Anxiety?

We humans need to be able to respond to our environment and to respond to challenges. Have you ever been walking down the street and come across a tiger? Well, likely not if you live in an urban/suburban area. But you may come across an angry customer or gotten into a car accident. Anxiety is part of our survival system. We feel anxious when our brains and bodies perceive threats. These perceived threats, that we may not be consciously aware of, start a cascade of processes in our mind and body. Our brain through our senses, emotions, and memory (both conscious and unconscious) will engage our stress response system. This is part of our survival mechanism. To survive, we need to quickly engage our bodies to react – without thought. During emergency situations we may not be aware of anxiety at all, and just act.  

What sensations and experiences might be activated when this happens? Let’s talk about if you have had any of these sensations.

Normal Anxiety And Pathological Anxiety

Anxiety is part of our NORMAL experience as humans. Having anxiety in reaction to perceived threat, deadlines, a test, starting a new job – all normal responses. But there is anxiety that is unhealthy also known as pathological anxiety. What makes anxiety pathological or unhealthy? In general, pathological anxiety is different from normal anxiety in that:   

  • It persists over time or does not go away even when the stressful event or time has passed.  

Example: You were in an auto accident 6 months ago, but you still feel your heart racing every time you need to drive to the store. 

  • The anxiety is uncontrollable and excessive to the point where it is affecting your quality of life. Excessive means it is out of proportion to the situation or is not age appropriate.

Example: The teenager who freaks out when mom or dad goes to work or out of town. It’s age appropriate to have separation anxiety between 6-12 months even up to 3 years old. If a teenager still has this, it would be pathological anxiety. 

Diagnoses which are considered pathological types of anxiety:  

  • Separation anxiety disorders
  • Social anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Other specific phobias.

There are also other mental health disorders that involve anxiety as a symptom. Even though they are not classified as an anxiety disorder. These include: 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress 
  • Acute stress disorder 
  • Depression  

With these types of disorders, you can experience anxiety as one of the symptoms. But how and why they occur is a factor in how the American Psychiatric Association categorizes them differently, even though anxiety is a core symptom.

Anxiety affects both sexes equally. I highly recommend you listen to Adam Scroggin’s story of having a panic attack and how it can feel like you are dying.

Consequences Of Pathological Anxiety

If you think you have pathological anxiety. It is important to speak with a professional in the mental health field to explore further. Why? Because this prolonged pathological response to anxiety which is a disorder has real life impact on your health and functioning. Although it is not always the cause, anxiety disorders are associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, arthritis, asthma, gastrointestinal problems like peptic ulcers and irritable bowel disease, and chronic pain. Having a medical condition can also make you more likely to develop an anxiety disorder as well. So, make sure that you have a discussion with your health care provider. 

Body Responses to Anxiety Disorder

Some of our bodies responses to continued, prolonged, pathological anxiety.

What To Do If You Have Anxiety – The Basics

So, you have anxiety, what now? There are some great first steps to take for your general mental health, which can help you and your body be better prepared to handle anxiety, whether it is normal anxiety or a disorder.  

Basic mental health self-care:  

  • Get regular physical activity. Activity adds up. It does not have to be all at once. 30 minutes total 5 times a week is the goal, but it does not have to start there. Start slow and progress to that goal.  

  • Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet with protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The emphasis should be on whole foods. Also drink plenty of water, which can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee. 

  • Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens makes it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure for 30min to 1 hour from your phone or computer before bedtime. 

  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Try journaling, taking a hot bath, or listening to music.  

  • Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Practice saying “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you are taking on too much. Give yourself praise for what you DO accomplish each day! 

  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of three things you are grateful for. Be specific.  

  • Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts. Do not ignore the negative thoughts, challenge them, and only allow them so much time in your mental life.  

  • Stay connected. Reach out to your friends or family members who can and DO provide emotional support and practical help.  


General Mental Health Care LFT Health

Remember, you do not need to do 100% of the healthy things above 100% of the time. Do them most of the time. For you it might be 70% of the time, or 95% of the time to achieve general mental health. Every individual is different.

The 6 Interventions Specific For Anxiety

Now that we have gotten down the basics of general mental health, which are foundational, we will look at 6 ways you can care for your anxiety.  

  1. Learn about anxiety! You have already started but click on some of the links. Learning about what anxiety is, and its symptoms, can help you to better identify anxiety and know how it may be affecting YOU.  

  1. Mindfulness. Mindfulness takes practice and training. It comes easy for some and can be challenging for others. Different from other meditation, it’s a focus on the present moment noticing sensations and emotions without judgement or trying to figure them out. Start with Youtube for something that is less than 5 min at first.  

  1. Practice breathing exercises for anxiety. To de-activate the anxiety systems in the brain/body, we need to activate the relaxation system. A good start is to breathe in for 3 counts (count in your head 1… 2… 3…), then hold for 2 counts (count in your head 1… 2…), then exhale for 4 counts (count in your head 1… 2… 3… 4…). Do this three times and then allow your breath to go back to its natural rhythm. Repeat this exercise 3 more times. 

  1. Physical activity… yes, again! This can be in addition to the physical activity mentioned above, or part of the routine that is our goal for general mental health. Yoga can be helpful for depression; high intensity workouts can be effective for anxiety.  

  1. Find a support group. Not only does this provide social support but can help with problem solving and learning new ways of managing your anxiety.  

  1. Grounding techniques. Grounding is a term used to bring your awareness back into your body and present moment. Different from mindfulness. These are used to help manage powerful emotions like anxiety but can also be used for other strong distressing emotions. Try one of the following.  

  • Pick a color at random. Now look around the room, making sure to move your head around to do so finding all the objects in the room that are that color. Name them aloud or in your head.  

  • Play the “alphabet game”. Pick a subject like animals, or sports teams, or cities, etc… For example, using animals, start naming animals using each letter of the alphabet in order. A… aardvark, B… baboon, C… camel…. etc… Make it challenging enough that you need to think about it a bit!  

Anxiety Care LFT Health

Anxiety is complex, but with some tools, learning and awareness, you can manage it! There are lots of other ways to manage, and even change our anxiety. If simple tools do not seem to help, continue to explore other options. There are hundreds!  

Seek help from one of the many experts out there as well. Mental health professionals all have many tools to help. They can also help with exploring the origins and types of anxiety you might be experiencing and help to tailor your treatment to make it more effective. Lastly, it does take time. Especially if you have an anxiety disorder, it takes time, retraining, coaching, and sometimes several types of therapy to care for your anxiety. But you are worth it!