Although the cold-weather season is often thought of as a time of joy and fun (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), for others the shorter days bring lower spirits, as well. I realize its only October, but if you are one of the 25 million people who suffer from SAD, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s not too early to put effective strategies in place to ensure you maintain your joy all season long! Although the direct cause of SAD is still disputed, many researchers believe that winter blues are due to a lack of light in wintertime which can result in lower levels of serotonin, the mood-enhancing chemical that regulates hunger and a general feeling of well-being. As a result, symptoms include depression, low self-esteem, irritability, shyness, and anxiety. Additionally, people with SAD (appropriate acronym, yes?) may also suffer from poor sleep, partly because they don’t have enough serotonin to convert to the sleep hormone melatonin. For others, the mere anticipation of the cold weather, shorter days, and holiday stress and anxiety is enough to put them over the edge. So what can you do to reverse or beat the winter blues? Let’s take a look at a few foods and nutrients that can provide benefit.
To ease feelings of depression: Eat more fish! Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna) may help ease depressive symptoms. A recent study showed that eating fish twice a week was associated with lower risk of depression and suicide. If your craving a snack in the middle of the day, grab a handful of cashews. Cashews contain a number of essential minerals, including potassium, phosphorus and calcium, but most importantly a high dose of magnesium at almost 80 milligrams per serving. Magnesium plays a crucial role in maintaining mood balance and can provide a calming effect. Researchers believe that close to 80% of the world’s population is magnesium deficient. Other magnesium-rich foods include: spinach, kale, almonds, avocado, pumpkin seeds and chocolate- yes, CHOCOLATE! We’ll get back to chocolate in a minute!
To get out of a bad mood: Selenium is an essential trace mineral in the body and plays a significant role in brain function. Selenium deficiency has been linked to bad mood, anxiety, irritability, hostility and depression. Individuals suffering from too little selenium have been shown to be more anxious, irritable, hostile and depressed than people with normal levels of selenium. Pistachios, salmon, and shitake mushrooms can instantaneously get you out of this funk. I do not suggest taking selenium as a supplement, however, unless advised by a doctor.
When you want to feel pleasant and alert: Capsaicin is an active ingredient in chili peppers that kicks up your metabolism, releases toxins and keeps energy high. Add them to soups, curries, etc., or anything to add a little more warmth to your day! Try drinking green tea. Green tea can aid in concentration and mental acuity as well as provide a little boost of energy. Try to opt for green tea over coffee as you will not get the “crash” from the intense amount of caffeine found in most coffee beverages. And let us not forget the chocolate! Okay, so obviously, I don’t want you to sabotage your health by loading up on high-sugar foods and in fact, maintaining a diet low in sugar will help combat depression overall, as well as help maintain a healthy immune system to fight off that icky flu. BUT, dark chocolate is the prefect feel-good treat which, according to research, can positively affect serotonin levels in the brain and help reduce blood pressure.
When you want to feel happy: Okay, this is not where you go for the chocolate iced cupcake and Stoli martini combo! Let’s get one thing straight (in case you haven’t figured it out already), high-sugar foods and alcohol provide temporary feelings of happiness and will eventually leave you feeling worse. Keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant. Occasional indulgence – sure, go ahead…but if you consume alcohol regularly (more than 2-3 times a week), it can cause depressive feelings, lethargy, foggy mind, weak muscles, etc. Try instead to consume foods that are high in tryptophan (which converts to serotonin in the body) such as cheeses and nuts as well as free-range eggs and chicken. Also, for a nice AM pick-me-up, try Ginseng tea. Ginseng is an adaptogen, an herb which has been shown to improve the body’s response to stress as well as decrease feelings of anxiety.
- Vitamin D3 (5000-10000 iu a day) AM
- St. John’s Wort (300-900 mg a day) AM
- SAMe (400 mg 2-4 times a day) AM
- Flaxseed Oil (1 Tbsp. a day) AM
- 5-HTP (20-50 mg per day) PM
- Tyrosine/ L-Tyrosine (500 mg a day) PM
- Magnesium (200-400 mg a day) PM
- B Complex, specifically B6, B9 and B12 (Once daily) AM
- Light therapy – Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder is the first and the foremost way to beat winter blues. Expose yourself to light by getting up early in the morning and basking in the sunlight for some time. Those who suffer from major depressive disorder may take light therapy indoors by using an Ott Light or light box.
- Exercise – Exercise regularly for about 45 minutes to an hour, every day. This releases serotonin and help in decreasing depression level.
- Color Therapy – Wear bright colors like red, orange, yellow, etc. Believe it or not, surrounding yourself with bright color helps lift your mood. You can even change your home décor slightly to beat the winter blues by using bright-colored paints and bright home furnishings like curtains, cushions, throw pillows, etc. They will make you more energetic and help you decrease depression level.