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Beat the Seasonal Blues

Lift spirits on winter days

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Beat the Seasonal Blues

According to Health Canada, up to 15 percent of people suffer from winter blues. Luckily, there are many strategies you can try at home to beat the winter blues.

The lazy days of summer and the memories of natural evening light seem like a distant memory. It’s no wonder our moods often take a nosedive around this time of year.

According to Health Canada, up to 15 percent of people suffer from winter blues. This is above the reported two to three percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

There are many easy strategies you can try at home to overcome those falling spirits. Some require more effort than others, but once you get started and your moods improve, the motivation to try new things will follow.

Sleep

Along with short winter days come sleep difficulties for some people. Lack of sleep coupled with lack of daylight can definitely be a good-mood killer. Some studies found an increased level of melatonin, the sleep hormone, in those with SAD or with the winter blues.

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your slumber quickly returns to a healthy routine. You may want to try some form of bright light therapy that will suppress melatonin production in the afternoon and allow it to increase at the desired time in the evening. Specially designed therapeutic desktop lamps are one convenient way to get a safe amount of indirect light. Since there are many options, a little consumer research will ensure you get one best suited to your needs.

5 fun ways to beat the winter blues
  1. Call a friend and meet for a walk and a warm drink. Make a point to keep the conversation away from the weather.
  2. If you like to cook, challenge yourself to create an energizing meal. A quinoa salad with colourful vegetables and wild salmon will provide an energy punch to your day.
  3. Give yourself something to look forward to—whether it’s a pedicure, a sporting event, or a weekend trip. Having that date circled on your calendar can get you through some of the dreary days ahead.
  4. Bundle up and enjoy some good old Canadian winter fun. Go snowshoeing, build a snowman, go ice skating or sledding. Remind yourself how much you used to look forward to this season.
  5. Get up and move. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you choose. It all helps to keep the endorphins, also known as the feel good hormones, pumping.

Get moving

Exercise has been shown time and again to boost natural endorphin and serotonin levels, and to promote healthy sleep. As endorphin levels rise, they help your body lower its perception of pain and increase function of the immune system. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes daily of any form of exercise you enjoy. Yoga, running, and walking have all been shown to improve energy and mood immediately after completion of a session.

A recent study showed that the beneficial impact of exercise on moods lasted longer than the effect of antidepressant medication. So get up, bundle up, and offer to shovel your neighbour’s driveway. You’ll get your exercise and check off your good deed for the day at the same time.

Acupuncture

According to traditional Chinese medicine, winter is a time of quietness and a time to rebuild your energy stores for the coming seasons. One relaxing way to do this is with acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture is well known for its positive effect on pain, mood, and hormone disorders. A few rebalancing treatments can get you out of that slump and get you back on track to enjoy the winter season.

A commonly used acupuncture point is Governing Vessel 20 (GV 20), located at the highest point of the body—the centre of the top of your head. It is one of the main points used to increase energy, clear the head, and treat insomnia. Try it out by gently pressing the point with your finger for 20 seconds, several times per day.

Supplements & food

It should come as no surprise that there are many options for supplements that improve your mood. When you eat a proper, balanced diet, your mood improves due to the influx of vitamins and minerals your brain needs to make you feel good. If your diet is not quite as healthy as you would like, there are some supplements especially suited to beat the winter blues.

Vitamin D has had much media attention lately regarding its benefits for bone health, heart health, and its antiaging effects. It does all of that and more.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to lower moods and an increased risk of depression. Research on the therapeutic value of increasing vitamin D to improve mood in the winter is still underway, but it seems like a cost-effective and safe treatment to try.

Foods such as cod liver oil and organic butter contain high vitamin D levels. While the sun helps our bodies to manufacture vitamin D, from October until the end of March, its rays aren’t strong enough to aid us, making supplementation essential.

When vitamin D levels are low, your calcium levels also may suffer since vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption. Foods that contain calcium include milk products, salmon, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli. You may want to ask your health practitioner to recommend a good calcium supplement with vitamin D.

The compound 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for balancing mood, sleep, and hunger. To elevate serotonin levels, 5-HTP supplementation is an option. If you are considering 5-HTP, it is important to discuss it with your health care practitioner first to ensure you receive the proper dose and to avoid potential drug interactions. You can also boost your serotonin levels by adding whole grains and nuts to your diet.

Omega-3 oils have also been found to support healthy mood and thought patterns, but certain types are more effective than others. Recent studies found that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, short for docosahexaenoic acid, was not the beneficial component of the mood enhancing equation. When subjects took DHA only, they often felt worse than the placebo group. When the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was given, data showed “significant positive benefits” in terms of improving mood.

Omega-3 oils are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Walnuts are also a good source. Many other foods are currently fortified with omega-3 such as eggs, dairy, and some breads.

B vitamins are important for regulating the nervous system and for mental and emotional well-being. They balance brain function and mood by acting as cofactors in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain. B vitamins are water soluble, so they are not stored in the body. This means that you require a constant source such as a good B complex or a multivitamin. Great winter foods which are high in B vitamins include oats, beef, turkey, potatoes, and legumes.

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