Partying in winter — Why are winter comedowns the worst?

Stormy sky and rain on a window

Winter comedowns suck. Something about Washout Wednesday when it’s cold, wet, and miserable outside just makes it suck worse than in summer when everything is warm and golden.

This is your brain. This is your brain on winter

There is something about winter that, in some folk, kicks up depression symptoms. Seasonal Affective Disorder, hilariously acronymed SAD, is a legit depressive state that doctors have recognised as a period of low mood lasting from late autumn to mid-spring.

The jury’s still out on what causes SAD. The most prevalent theory is that, because you’re getting less vitamin D due to reduced sunlight, your brain doesn’t produce serotonin as well as it does in summer. Vitamin D’s one of the important ingredients in changing tryptophan into serotonin in the brain, so it makes sense that if you’re not getting as much vitamin D, your brain isn’t going to be performing as well as it does in summer.

Read more about the role of vitamin D in serotonin production

Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior National Library of Medicine, 2015

Vitamin D and serotonin in winter Science Direct, 1998

Optimal vitamin D spurs serotonin: 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D represses serotonin reuptake transport (SERT) and degradation (MAO-A) gene expression in cultured rat serotonergic neuronal cell lines BMC, 2018

Folk feel SAD in varying intensities, depending on their own personal brain chemistry.

People with SAD might find themselves feeling

  • More tired than usual
  • Easier to upset
  • More introverted than usual
  • Less interested in things that would ordinarily be fun
  • Not really able to feel enjoyment in things that would ordinarily be fun
  • A loss of libido
  • A change in appetite. People can either get put off food completely and find eating a challenge. Or they can go the other way and eat loads, without it being a pleasurable experience
  • A change in sleeping patterns.

Read more about SAD on the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand website

Even if you’re not feeling the winter blues and feeling kinda normal, your brain’s not going to be doing its best when it comes to producing serotonin. So it makes sense that you’re going to have a harder time coming back to your pre-party baseline, and the Tuesday Blues are going to last longer.

Love your future self. Prep your comedown

There’s nothing worse than really really wanting to crawl into a duvet burrito to hibernate and finding you have to deal with the outside world.

Apart from having that feeling while you’re coming down.

Prepping like it’s the apocalypse might sound like a lot of faff, but it’s for the best. Future you will thank you for it.

Maintain your meat suit

Sustenance

You might have a reduced appetite, and it might take longer to come back than normal, so snacks, soup and plenty of water are the way to go. If there are particular snacks you know you like when you’re coming down, pick up a stash to graze on. Your brain knows that it’s coming down, and those snacks are what you eat while you’re in that state, which could help override your lack of appetite.

Also, soup is a good, easy way to get nutrients into your body when you’re feeling put off by eating solids. It’s low effort and warms you up from the inside too, which is great for cold winter days.

Naps

You may find that your sleep cycle is more janky than usual if you’re coming down in winter. Serotonin is part of the system that regulates sleep, and low levels of serotonin can lead to lack of sleep.

The best way to deal with this is to make a comfy place with all of the warm, cozy things, and nap. Watch some calming ASMR videos or your favourite cartoons and let yourself drift in and out of wakefulness. Your sleep cycle will catch up eventually, but trying to force it will only make it harder to actually fall asleep, which will make you more stressed out, which will make it harder for you to sleep. Basically it’s a merry-go-round of horrible, so it’s best to make yourself a nest and let your body do the thing in its own time.

Read about the effect of serotonin and sleep on the National Library of Medicine website

Book time off work

If you know you’ll need a holiday, then book a holiday. The drop in serotonin means you’re going to be overwhelmed and feeling way more vulnerable than usual. Winter blues on top of that is going to make the outside world feel far more confrontational, and can make you feel super anxious. Give yourself a break.

Supplements and/or vitamins and/or strategic snacks

Some people find that they recover from a night of hedonism quicker if they take things like 5-HTP, or eat foods high in tryptophan, like bananas or tuna. Again, your mileage may vary because everyone’s internal chemistry is different, but you can give a go and see what happens.

Just be mindful that if you take 5-HTP within 24 hours of taking MDMA you can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome, so maybe wait a day before supplementing.

Prioritise self care

Save the doomscrolling for when you’re feeling less fragile

Dunno if you’ve noticed, but every time you open up the internet there’s a fresh round of horrible in the news. Social media platforms full of everyone else’s reckons don’t help either.

You might feel a bit more sensitive to the existential dread while your brain gets its serotonin back together. Maybe spending quality time with your favourite lightweight tv shows or watching Kitten Bowl or Puppy Bowl on YouTube is a better choice?

Snugs for the snugbeasts

Comic illustration of a person face-planting into a cat
Sometimes you just gotta huff the furry frens

A reporter from Vice spent a month testing four different comedown ‘cures’ that the internet suggested, and his most successful cure was spending a day playing with dogs in a park.
Read the article on Vice’s site

Tbf that sounds like a day that would cure most of what ails you, and also bring about World Peace, probably. But the science seems sound:

A study done in the UK after OG Lockdown in 2020 showed that people that had pets, regardless of species, suffered less from the negative effects of isolation in that time. It seems that spending time with an animal that you’re friends with is actually super helpful in terms of feeling connected, worthy, and loved when you can’t handle the noise and stress of people.

Read the study on PLOS One

A word about medications

Last year we wrote a piece on how illicit substances work in your brain and your body if you take prescription medication to help with your mental health. We figured we’d mention it again in case you get prescribed something to help get the winter blues under control. Our advice from that piece still stands: Talk candidly with your doctor about what you’re planning before you have your adventure.

If you’ve been prescribed SSRIs, MAOIs, tricyclics, or any other mood-helping meds, please be super super careful with what else you take. Your risks of serotonin syndrome goes up if you’re on SSRIs.

Several of the known cathinones we’ve seen can cause life-threatening reactions with MAOIs, so come and get your stuff checked to make SURE it is what it is before you take it.

Read last year’s post on prescription meds and party drugs

It might feel like a bit of a buzz-kill, but in all honesty if you’re taking prescription meds maybe save your stash until summer. Your brain will have more of a fighting chance to replace its serotonin in a timely fashion if it’s not fighting the winter blues as well.

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