If Antonio Vivaldi had lived in northern Germany, he may not have composed The Four Seasons, rather The Three Seasons: Spring, Summer and Darkness.
Northern European cities have as few as 42 (Hamburg) to 45 (Berlin) hours of sunlight in the month of January. Stockholm is on average even bleaker, with a paltry 40 hours of sun in a study that compiles over 30 years of data. Comparatively, southern European cities like Naples have 115 hours or Madrid has a whopping average of 148 hours of sunlight in the month of January.
It is no wonder why the term winter blues is common here in the north.
“It is getting cooler, it is getting darker - many people are experiencing this as a detrimental effect," said Iris Hauth, President of the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN).
One in four Germans suffers from health impairments in the winter and studies show that two to five percent of the population (more women than men) have a regular Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) beginning in the fall, where daylight is history by 4:30 in the afternoon.
Symptoms of the winter blues, which is a recognized medical condition, are similar to other signs of depression, like lethargy, or an inability to stay concentrated or focused, says Hauth. But a major difference between the winter blues compared to depression, she said, is that people afflicted with SAD can't stop eating sweets and carbohydrates. They also need a lot more sleep.
“This is attributed to the lack of light,” explains Hauth. This leads to a higher production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which controls the day-night rhythm in our bodies. For melatonin production, the body converts seratonin, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood, and decreases the body's supply - leading to many of the depressive symptoms. In extreme cases, people can even have suicidal thoughts.
Have you been looking for ways to naturally bring light and lightness back into your life during the dark, wintry season? We've got you covered.
Five tips for dealing with the gloomy winter months
Light box therapy: sitting in front of a light box can replace some of the sunshine your body craves during the dark German autumn and winter. The light from these boxes is much brighter than the light emitted from your average light bulb and can stimulate the body's circadian rhythm (24-hour internal clock) while suppressing the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Vitamin D: During the winter months many of us have a vitamin D deficiency due to the lack of sunlight, which can also lead to the sluggishness and moodiness associated with the winter blues. The risk of suffering from depression doubles in young adults with Vitamin D deficiencies, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Dawn simulators (Dämmerung simulator): These are like alarm clocks that use gradually increasing light to wake you up slowly, the same way the sun would. The best kinds use full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight.
Exercise: While it might seem hard to get moving when you wake up and head home in darkness, at least one hour of regular outdoor exercise and keeping a regular schedule can help keep the blues away, according to expert Hauth. Exercise increases the rate and frequency in which seratonin is produced. Regular exercise also increases the level of tryptophan in the brain – an amino acid used to manufacture seratonin.
Aromatherapy: Your sense of smell is directly connected to your mood, via your limbic system, the part of the brain that controls your mood and the circadian rhythm. Lavender, bergamot, verbena, neroli, rosewood, patchouli, palmrose, orange and lemon oils are recommended by Heilpraxis.net as beneficial for dealing with the winter blues.