January 17, 2017
Some people love the wintertime. It brings snowy days and cozy nights, holiday gatherings and delicious hot food and drink. But for others, winter brings the blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects roughly 10 million Americans, and for some, it can be debilitating. While winter depression is more widely recognized than ever before, its causes and cures remain mysterious. If you have SAD and your symptoms are unmanageable, seek help. If you’re experiencing mild symptoms, try these five tactics to boost your mood.
Exercise is proven to be an effective way to boost your mood. Exercising outdoors can increase the impact, by adding the benefits of sunlight and fresh air. A formal routine isn’t necessary; even simple physical activities like taking a walk outside can make a difference. It’s important to find the activities that work best for you, and then set reasonable goals. A bit of exercise will trigger the production of mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin and will help you stay fit and burn calories — all of which contribute to increased feelings of wellness.
In the Northeast, winter means less sunlight. A general malaise and the feeling of not being well-rested despite a full night’s sleep are common symptoms of SAD. While a lack of sunlight can be a contributing factor, especially in higher latitudes, your body’s circadian rhythms certainly experience a shift in the winter. Some theories propose that humans have adapted to be less active in the colder months, and our daily schedules don’t accommodate this shift. Light therapy can offer some relief to the winter blues, with benefits of feeling more awake, aware and alert. This helpful guide to light therapy boxes can help you decide which is best for you.
We’re not suggesting a binge on your favorite foods to cheer yourself up. Comfort foods, especially those containing fat and sugar, can have more negative than positive impacts on your health overall. Looking at what you eat and being more selective can impact the way you feel for the better. An occasional reward can also be a good idea, and a bit of chocolate — especially dark chocolate — may be one of the healthiest options. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa contains beneficial polyphenols, which have been shown to alleviate anxiety and promote a sense of calm.
Omega-3 fatty acids are proven to help maintain healthy levels of brain chemicals associated with mood. Serotonin, which allows parts of the brain to communicate with each other, is linked to depression, aggression and suicidal feelings when found in low levels. With proper omega-3 intake, serotonin distributes more easily in the brain, flowing through cell membranes with ease, to reach the places it’s needed. Dopamine, the reward chemical released by the brain in response to pleasurable activities, is also supported by omega-3 intake. Foods rich in these vital fatty acids include flaxseed, hemp, canola and walnut oils, as well as fatty, cold-water fish like mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines and anchovies.
Vitamin D (cholecalciferol) is not actually a vitamin but rather a steroid hormone precursor and, unlike other vitamins, is produced naturally by the body. When our bare skin absorbs UVB rays from the sun, we produce vitamin D. There is a documented link between deficiency and depression, with studies showing decreased serotonin production accompanying lowered levels of vitamin D. The decreased exposure to sunlight may play a role in winter deficiency. A dietary supplement of this necessary nutrient can help fend off SAD and keep you healthy and feeling good.
Don’t let the winter blues get the better of you this winter. Follow these five tips for a happier, healthier lifestyle and enjoy more of the good things the season has to offer. You’ll be glad you did.