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Got the Winter Blues? Blame Your Microbiome, Then Follow These Tips

A sad-looking man standing at a window overlooking a snowy landscape.
Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

During the dark, cold months of winter, many people notice their mood, motivation, and energy levels seem to wane. This has never been more true than over the last year, as most of us have been confined to our homes for long periods. But did you know this could be due to science? Your microbiome could be causing your winter blues.

What Is the Microbiome?

The human microbiome is the sum of all the microorganisms living in and on the human body. All the fungi, parasites, bacteria, and microbes coexist and function together, with trillions and trillions of genes. This all impacts our every cell and plays numerous key roles in every function of our body.

Every individual has a completely unique microbiome from the moment of birth. It then develops and constantly updates according to things like your environment, diet, stress level, lifestyle, and activities. During winter, the changes in many of these areas are extreme.

From this perspective, it’s easy to see how the cold season could affect everything from your digestion and hormones to your moods and feelings.

Seasonal affective disorder (aptly shortened to SAD) is a depressive seasonal pattern that many people first experience in the autumn and then extends well into winter. Also known as the “winter blues,” it causes people to feel tired, and, well, a bit sad.

Scientists have speculated that the lack of sunlight and vitamin D could be to blame, as it contributes to the levels of our “happiness” neurotransmitter, serotonin. As 90% of our serotonin is produced in our digestive tract, where the majority of our microbes and microbiome also reside, you can see the likely problem.

If our gut is imbalanced, it could have a much larger impact on our mood and energy levels, as the studies exploring the gut-brain axis have shown.

A recent study also found a link between exposure to UVB light and significant improvements in the microbiome diversity in the gut. This led to decreased inflammation in diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple sclerosis (MS).

You probably already knew how crucial vitamin D is to maintain your overall health, but these new revelations seem to show just how much everything is connected.

How to Combat the Winter Blues

A woman and three men having a snowball fight.

You don’t have to put up with those SAD vibes all winter long. There are some things you can try to lose them for good. Try the following tips and see which work best for you:

  • Get outside: It doesn’t matter if it’s for five minutes or an hour, just get as much daylight as possible. Start doing this as early as November. Whether you just take a morning stroll through the neighborhood, a run in the park, or a snowball fight with the fam, anything is better than staying inside under artificial lighting. You’ll need to dress warm, so be sure to invest in some layers.
  • Eat nutritious foods: When we’re feeling down, we tend to reach for those comfort foods, but they’ll only cause our energy levels to plummet further. Fresh, seasonal produce is packed with vitamins and minerals that will boost your energy. Plus, they’ll feed the microbiome the good stuff so it can produce all the hormones it needs for optimal balance and function. Remember, the more tired you are, the more nutrients you need.
  • Take the time for self-care: It became a real buzzword in 2020, but self-care means different things to different people. Some folks might live for their evening journaling sessions, while others prefer baking or bubble baths. Whatever relaxes you, just be sure to make it a priority. Engage in those activities more often during winter.
  • Increase your activity level: Whether you finally join that running club or start taking yoga classes, keeping your body moving is the best way to stay physically and mentally healthy. Not only does exercise boost your immune system, but it also gets your blood pumping, fires up your muscles, and lubricates your joints. It also stimulates your body’s natural detox function, which makes it easier to fight off seasonal infections. Plus, when you work out, it boosts your energy level and just makes you feel better.
  • Don’t expect a change overnight: This is a process. However, if you bring more positivity into your life day by day, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you wake up and no longer feel down in the dumps. It’s all about engaging in activities you enjoy and that contribute to your overall well-being.

It appears the connection between our gut and microbiome is pretty strong, especially when it comes to dealing with seasonal changes. So, always remember that you’re not alone—many people are dealing with the same thing.

This is the year you can totally turn it around, though! If you can’t embrace the good things about winter (a snow-covered tree is pretty gorgeous, no?), embrace activities you enjoy and those that will improve your mental and physical health. If you need some inspiration, you might want to invest in a planner or some daily affirmation cards to help you get and stay motivated.

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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