Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Sunday so that means we have six more weeks of winter to survive. The groundhog-sees-his-shadow thing might be a myth but the winter blues aren’t. They can be very real, and even debilitating if you live in a wintery part of the world.
If the winter blues are getting to you, it’s possible you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD hits millions of people at this time every year and unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to travel to a place where you can drink in natural sun light you may find yourself a few weeks away from a remedy. At least that’s what Phil predicts.
If you plan to power through on your own and without the help of prescription medications to ease your symptoms, there are some things that you can do that will help.
Below are 10 tips for you to try that will push back the winter blahs, enhance your mood, and increase your energy level.
1. Mood Foods – Researchers that have looked at which foods increase levels of serotonin (the mood enhancing chemical that regulates hunger and the feeling of well-being) haven’t come up with an exact list of foods proven to work. What nutritionists do know is that following a balanced diet of lean proteins and lots of colorful vegetables and fruits will help you feel better because your nutritional needs are met. This means you’ll have more energy and less dips in blood sugar. Chicken, fish, and an abundance of fruits and veggies will make you feel better and more energetic on the dreariest of days.
2. Avoid Sugar – Eating simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, rice and pastries will cause a surge in blood sugar followed by the inevitable crash. When your blood sugar drops your mood will go with it. In fact, according to the Brain Bio Centre, poor blood sugar balance is often the single-biggest factor in mood disorders amongst the people that seek the center’s advice.
3. Increase Levels of B Vitamins – The B’s play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Research shows that low levels of B-12, B-6 and folate is linked to depression. Foods high in B12 and folic acid are organ meats, legumes, wholegrain breads and fruits and vegetables like spinach, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and asparagus. Oranges, bananas, almonds, and egg yolks are also good sources.
4. Limit Alcohol Consumption – Drinking alcohol is one of those things that often ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’. But the after effects can be disastrous on our mood. Alcohol is a depressant and many people have an unexplained feeling of lonliness and depression after a fun night of drinking. Plus, alcohol acts as a diuretic and flushes nutrients – like B vitamins – from our system which makes us worse off. If you like to socialize and drink alcohol, drink a large glass of water after each alcoholic beverage and limit your consumption to two or three drinks.
5. Music – The American Music Therapy Association’s web site lists 57 pages of articles touting the research that proves that music is successful in treating depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and chronic pain. Music can boost your mood, make it easier for you concentrate, and assist with motivation to exercise. What you put on the play list is a personal choice. I like up-beat, rhythmic music but you may find that classical music or old rock-n-roll tunes works best for you.
6. Exercise – This should probably be number one on the list because of the direct correlation between exercise and mental health. The steady stream of endorphins that are released when you exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. Plus it boosts self-esteem and makes you sleep better. So, beyond the positive physical benefits of exercise, the mental ones are just as important; maybe even more so when we’re in the middle of a cold, dark winter. Pick a physical activity that you like to do and aim for at least 30 minutes four to five times a week.
7. Check Your Vitamin D – One of the primary causes of SAD is a lack of vitamin D. Our bodies create Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. During the dark winter months, our supplies of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ diminish and lead to depression and a lack of energy. Your doctor can take a blood test that will tell you where your vitamin D levels fall and prescribe a supplement if needed. You can, or course, self-prescribe by purchasing Vitamin D at the local drug store, but if your levels are real low, you still may not be getting an adequate amount.
8. Light Boxes – I know more and more people who are purchasing light boxes and benefiting from their effects. Light boxes come in various shapes, sizes and price ranges. The time you’ll need to spend in front of the light to get the desired benefits varies, but it is usually around 30 minutes a day. Light boxes are a good investment if you have persistent SAD symptoms. A quick Google search or a visit to Amazon.com will provide you with numerous options.
9. Boost Your Colors – I wear black. A lot. And when I’m not wearing black, I usually have on gray or neutral colors. The colors that you wear can have an impact on your mood and wearing bright colors, as opposed to drabs or darks, can give you an unexpected boost. The psychology of color show that blues are calming, purple is associated with wisdom and green is a symbol of nature. Wear a bright blue, orange or purple and see if cheers you up. It may even perk up those around you.
10. Socialize (even if you don’t feel like it.) – Get out from behind your desk and chat with a co-worker for a couple of minutes, invite a friend to lunch, join a group fitness class at the gym instead of spending all of your time on the treadmill. Studies show that people that socialize live longer and are happier. The winter months leave many people feeling isolated and lonely. Even short bursts of socialization can do wonders for your mental health.
Typical symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include tiredness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, body aches, irritability, overeating, weight gain, and depression. The Winter Blues Coach dedicates her web site to helping people find remedies for the SAD and she has an abundance of ideas that can help.
If you’re unable to find relief for your symptoms using natural remedies, or you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or bouts of severe depression, call your doctor for help.
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