It's getting dark outside early. Is it making you depressed?

Do you leave work in the dark and feel that the sky isn't the only cloudy thing? The good news is that you aren't alone.

Depression (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE)
Depression (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE)

In winter the days get shorter and we have the sudden plunge into early darkness when the clocks change. There are some positives, like saving energy and making it easier for people to get up, but it has a negative effect on the mental state of many people and several studies have found that there's an increase in cases of depression during the winter.

A study conducted by researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark and Stanford reviewed 185,419 cases in which severe depression was diagnosed between 1995 to 2012. They found that after the clock fell back there was an 11% increase in the number of diagnosed cases.

The increase in depressive symptoms during the fall season even has an official name - Seasonal Affective Disorder, or in its ironic acronym - SAD.

Fortunately, unlike severe depression that's difficult to resolve without professional help, with SAD there are several things you can do to help you put a smile back on your face. Here are five ways to overcome winter depression.

Remember that the sun is still shining

The main culprit for your difficult feelings now is a sudden lack of serotonin, a neurotransmitter secreted in response to stimuli that causes pleasure, enjoyment and an overall better feeling. During this period, exposure is important. 

Sad teen (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)Sad teen (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

The lack of sunlight causes a drop in serotonin. It's important to relax and remember that even in winter the sun is still here, especially at the Dead Sea and in Eilat.

To use the sun to your advantage, sleep with the curtains open and let the natural light wake you up in the morning. Waking up will be easier and more pleasant. During the day, try to be exposed to the sun at least 20 minutes/day and take more breaks outside the office.

Bring in reinforcements

There are several ways to encourage your body's production of serotonin. When you eat lots of carbohydrates, serotonin rises, as well as if you smoke or drink alcohol. The problem is that when you overdo these actions you "teach" the brain that only they make you feel great, and in their absence, serotonin levels are low and mood is low, or in other words you develop a dangerous addiction.

So, it's recommended not to comfort yourself with carbs but to eat healthier foods that may increase serotonin levels in a more natural way. These are foods you'll enjoy eating, such as fish and cheeses. Foods rich in omega-3s may also lift your mood, including walnuts, chia seeds and soybeans.

Start moving

If anyone had doubts about the contribution of physical activity to the state of mind, a study recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that an hour of exercise each week can help prevent depression. 

Physical activity improves blood circulation, reduces stress and increases energy levels during this sensitive period.

Remember that exercise doesn't necessarily mean tearing yourself up in the gym. Any aerobic activity such as cycling or even walking can significantly improve your general feeling and overall health. If you have anxiety, yoga is definitely a good choice, as it may significantly reduce symptoms.

Start taking the initiative

Another hormone secreted in the brain that gives us a great feeling is called oxytocin, or by its more attractive name, the "love hormone". As its name suggests, this hormone is secreted when we kiss, cuddle with people we love, have sex or, in contrast, spend time with family and close friends.

Here too, as you can probably guess, the release of oxytocin is dependent on you. So instead of being lonely in bed and bitter about your grim fate, surround yourself with loved ones and do things together. Suggest to friends to exercise together so you can strengthen your mental state.

Recalculate route

Even those who don't like summer very much agree that in summer it's more fun to exercise outside, sit by the sea, swim in the pool or take a walk in nature. The change to wintertime means less light and fewer fun activities.

Experts explain that one of the most effective ways to overcome depression is to do new things that will stimulate the mind and add excitement to life. List five things you want to do within the next month. Once you do at least most of these activities, you'll probably feel less sad and more energetic.