You probably have noticed it already – sunshine is in short supply this winter. The low-pressure weather is responsible for one of the darkest winters since records began. No wonder we are frequently feeling under the weather (pun intended).
Shortage of sunshine can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), whose symptoms include a lack of energy, a desire to sleep and a perceived need to consume greater quantities of sugar and fat. Lack of sunlight can affect the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep and influences the production of hormones that stimulate the body. As a result we might find ourselves short on good mood and motivation.
You can check your current mood situation by answering this short questionnaire. Score 1 for each “yes” answer.
- Do you often feel downhearted or sad?
- Do you often feel worse in the morning?
- Do you find it difficult to face the day?
- Do you sometimes have crying spells, or feel like it?
- Do you have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night?
- Do you often feel fearful?
- Are you often irritable or angry?
- Do you find it difficult to make decisions?
- Is it an effort to motivate yourself to do the things you used to do?
- Do you feel less enjoyment from activities that once gave you pleasure?
If your score is above 3 than your mood needs some boost.
In this article I will share 5 ways that can help improve how you feel.
If your mood is often low, there are two avenues you need to explore – your mind frame and your chemistry.
Let’s start by exploring the mind frame.
1 Did you know that depression is often anger without enthusiasm? Think if there is something you are angry about. Make a list. It might be that you are suppressing anger inside of you, which directly affects your mood. If this is the case try to solve whatever unfinished issue you have. It might be a good idea to try and share how you’re feeling with your partner or friend or with a health coach that can help you identify the root of your anger and how you can best release it.
2 Consciously try to cultivate a positive mind frame.
There are some useful tools to do this (like this journal) but the truth is you will only need a pen and paper and you are good to go. Upon waking up in the morning, before doing anything else, write down 5 things you are truly grateful for. Then spend a minute visualizing how you’d like your day to unfold, focusing on pleasant and positive activities. You can also do a similar exercise in the evenings before going to bed. You can write down 3 things that made you happy during the day. This way, your mind will start to focus more on the positive events in your day, than on the negative ones. It is a simple and easy exercise but a powerful one.
3 Bathe in the light
Whenever the sun shows its shiny face, make an effort to go outside and get sun kissed. This is the best mood booster you can get! Light stimulates the brain to produce higher levels of serotonin and vitamin D, both known as “happy hormones”. As currently we don’t see the sun that often and vacationing in a sunny place in winter is not always possible, involving a “full-spectrum” lighting might be worth a try. There are light bulbs that have the same quality of light as the sun, determined by the spread of different wavelengths. But you could also do a simple exercise with a regular 60-watt bulb to increase your serotonin levels. Here’s how:
- Sit down in a dark, quiet place.
- Place a lamp containing a 60-watt opaque bulb 100cm away and directly in line with your line of vision.
- Make sure you can turn the light on and off without moving your head position.
- Turn the light on and look directly at the bulb for one minute, no longer.
- After one minute, turn the light off, close your eyes, and focus on the afterimage, the phospene, without moving your head, until it completely vanishes. This usually takes three to four minutes.
This exercise can be done at dusk to extend daylight hours, or in the morning to start off the day.
The third point influences not just your mind frame, but the brain chemistry as well, as it can affect the production of hormones.
Another important aspect that can influence the chemistry of the brain is the food we eat. Let’s see what we can eat to beat the winter blues.
Eating the right food no only can improve our mood, but it can give you the energy and motivation you need to make changes in your life.
One of the most common nutritional imbalances that directly affect the bran is a blood sugar imbalance. As mentioned previously during winter we tend to compensate for the lack of sunlight and energy by eating more sugar and fat. Unfortunately a sugar loaded breakfast will not nourish our body and will only give us a false sense of energy that will burn out very quickly. Pastries, white bread, and refined foods can raise our blood sugar levels too quickly. As this happens our body releases insulin to balance out the blood sugar and soon our blood sugar levels drop leaving us feeling tired and hungry. Depression is associated with poor control of blood glucose levels. In order to feel more energized and have a better mood we should focus on eating small regular meals of natural, unprocessed foods, including protein and fiber at each one. Rolled oats with some chia seeds and almond butter is a great example for a warming and filling breakfast that will give you long-lasting energy.
5 Deficiencies in nutrients
The most promising nutrients for improving mood are vitamins B3, B12, and folic acid, then vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. Essential fatty acids are important for the brain and our mood as well. (I will be covering them in my workshop this February).
Some of the foods that contain these nutrients include nutritional yeast, wheat germ, whole grains, nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, fish and leafy greens.
I hope you found the information in this article helpful. We can’t change the weather but we can change how we respond to it. By eating the right foods we can nourish our brain to perform better and by changing our mind frame we can react better to the external situations we are facing on a daily basis.
Patrick Holford: Optimum nutrition for the mind
Elson M. Haas: Staying healthy with nutrition