As the end of January rolls around, many of us struggle with a little bit of the Winter Blues. How do you know if you are experiencing the winter blues? Are you struggling to get up in the morning? Do you feel tired throughout the day? Do you just not look forward to any activities? Are you constantly filling up on sweets and refined carbohydrates? Do your thoughts focus on the negative things in your life?
As we move through the winter months, because of reduced sunlight our levels of serotonin drop. This can lead to the above symptoms. If your symptoms are severe you could actually have Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. If your symptoms are mild then you might try some of the following suggestions to help boost your serotonin levels and your mood. These suggestions are not meant to be medical advice, so please see a Doctor if your symptoms are severe and you are struggling with major depression.
8 Things to do if you are struggling with the Winter Blues:
Eat Healthier Foods and Meals
Many of us find that sugar and refined carbohydrates make us feel “better” for a short period of time. Carbohydrate impacts brain centers that give you a short term boost. However the effect is short lived and a person needs to continue eating more to feel better. This can often lead to weight gain which will then make you feel worse about yourself. Instead try boosting your intake of fiber rich carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Always incorporate a lean protein and some healthy fats into your meals and snacks. Here are some examples of healthy snack options.
- Hummus served with raw vegetables
- An apple or celery with a little peanut butter
- Whole grain english muffin with low fat cheese and a few slices of avocado
- Bean soup with whole grain crackers
- A palmful of nuts such as almonds or walnuts
- A berry smoothie made with low-fat greek yogurt, any type of berries and spinach
Get more Exercise
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When we are feeling down emotionally, we often just want to sit. It is easy to become very inactive in the winter because of the cold. We also have this tendency to make a nest in our homes. But activity is critical to helping us to overcome the winter blues. When you exercise it increases the level of endorphins, those feel good brain chemicals that give runners their “high”. You don’t have to be a runner to experience this. Anytime you exercise, your body will see an increase in these endorphins. Start simply with a short walk in your neighborhood. Each day get bundled up for the cold and go for a walk. Aim for 10 to 15 minutes at first and then increase over time.
If getting outdoors is not possible, there are many things you could do inside. You could try Leslie Sansone’s Walk, an indoor walking system. There are many exercise videos to purchase or check out from the library. You could take an online Yoga Class. Purchase an exercise ball. You could even climb your stairs. Just focus on getting started. Once you begin to exercise it can improve your mood and you will want to do more.
Add in some Vitamin D rich foods
This important vitamin is necessary for bone health. However in recent years, research has linked Vitamin D to depression as well. We often get our Vitamin D from being outside in the sunshine. Your body is able to make Vitamin D from the ultraviolet rays that come from the sun. However during the winter months our production is limited because of being indoors and the diminished rays of the sun. That means we need to eat more Vitamin D rich foods each day. Here are some choices to boost your intake…
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines
- Vitamin D fortified milk and dairy products
- Vitamin D fortified soy milk
- Whole eggs
- Beef Liver
- Other fortified foods such as orange juice and cereals (check the label to see if Vitamin D is added)
Spend time outdoors
Spending time outside can be a mood booster for many of us. It gets us off the couch and it gives us the opportunity to get a small amount of sunlight. Many studies have shown that the more time you spend outdoors the more active you will be. There is also a connection between time spent outdoors and weight. Being more active with less access to food could help you to shed some weight or at least prevent an increase.
Make sure that you dress appropriately for the cold. Add layers under your coat and include a hat, scarf and gloves. Head to the park to be in nature, ride your bike or go for a hike. You can also work in your garden to clean up some of the winter debris.
Open your curtains during the day
Light has been shown to help improve our mood. Getting more natural light can help. So open your curtains and blinds during the day to let in any possible rays of the winter sun. Also turn on lights in your home. Don’t sit in a dark room with just your tv screen or tablet. Some people will also benefit from a light therapy box. A light therapy box provides a high level of uv light that mimics sunlight. Sitting by one for an hour a day can boost your mood. Again, I would recommend talking with your Doctor first before purchasing a light therapy box.
Invest in a room lightening device
You can purchase a device that controls the light in your bedroom. It is called a dawn simulator. Basically this simulator slowly increases the light in your bedroom in the morning so that you wake up to a more natural level of light rather than the dark Of course if there are multiple people sleeping in the room, such as your spouse, this might not work for you.
Plan for your favorite summer activities
We can often get a mood boost when we have something to look forward too. So begin to plan for your summer activities now. Think about vacations you want to take or fun backyard activities such as a BBQ. These will get you motivated and looking forward to the warmer months. Sometimes that is all it takes to help us cope with the darker days of winter.
Throw a party now
You might find that you will get energized if you have something to plan and look forward to now. There are lots of opportunities to invite a small crowd over. Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, and St. Patty’s Day are coming soon. So pick a holiday or none at all. You could just have a mid-winter get together such as a Craft Night. This will get you more active as you clean your house and prepare for company. You will have something to look forward to which is usually a mood booster. And you will have the memories of your get together when you are done.
As the winter months drag on many people experience the winter blues. It is easy to begin boosting your serotonin level by incorporating these activities. Eventually spring will be here and with it the excitement of the new garden season and outdoor activities. We have a lot to look forward to in the coming year. Finding ways to cope with the winter blues now can help you to make it through this dark season.
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