As February plans to bring more snow, plunging temperatures and thick layers of clouds it has me wanting to pack up my bags in search of greener pastures! Perpetually gray skies, brown grass and bare branches can have a negative effect on even the most optimistic person. There is a recognized condition appropriately known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that refers to the instance of depression, fatigue, irritability and weight gain that can accompany long winters. If you live in a climate that is susceptible to ‘winter’ you have most likely suffered from SAD at one time or another. The good news is, even though we don’t have control over the weather, we can control how it affects us. Today I am going to share with you some natural approaches to help you fight off those winter blues and keep you feeling sunny even if the skies are not.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Exercise gets our blood flowing, helps us sweat out toxins and keeps our weight in check but it also helps fight depression. When you exercise your body produces serotonin and endorphins, two hormones that give you that “feel good” rush after a workout. Also, exercise raises your body temperature and will help you feel calm and relaxed – this can feel especially good if it is cold outside. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week but in this case, more is definitely better. If you can, exercise outside or near a sunny window and soak up some vitamin D at the same time! However, it is also cold and flu season and if you’re sick it is best not to push yourself. Check out my article on exercising while sick to determine if it’s OK for you.
Serotonin is thought to be a major contributor to mood stabilization and low levels of it can make you more susceptible to depression. Did you know that serotonin occurs naturally in our digestive tracts?! When your levels of serotonin become depleted in the winter months you can eat certain “mood foods” that will help your body create more of this “feel-good” hormone. When it is cold and gloomy outside many of us reach for not-so-healthy comfort foods (typically foods high in salt, sugar, fat and carbs) to feel better, but ironically those foods will just make you feel worse. Instead, make sure to eat plenty of fresh organic foods to help boost your mood naturally. Try out my recipe for garden fresh ratatouille for a healthy, no-fuss meal.
As tempting as it can be to curl up with a blanket and watch TV all night every night, this is a habit that will only make your “winter blues” worse. An engaged mind is a happy mind and the winter is a great time to try new things. Take that cooking class you have been eyeing, teach yourself to knit, volunteer, do crossword puzzles, play games with your family or read a great book. By staying engaged in activities you find enjoyable your mood will naturally elevate and it will help the winter go by much faster – and never underestimate the power of laughter shared among friends!
Get Some Sun
Ever wonder why sunlight makes you feel happy? Sunshine helps your body produce vitamin D, which occurs naturally in our bodies (but only when we receive adequate sunlight). Vitamin D not only helps us build strong bones and a strong immune system, it helps fight off depression. Make sure to frolic in some sunshine for at least 10 minutes a day. If you live in an area that is not particularly sunny you can always supplement with a natural sun lamp and use it for about 30 minutes a day or take vitamin D supplements, however, natural sunlight is preferred.
Sometimes eating well, getting some sun, exercising and engaging in fun activities just are not enough. It is OK to seek out professional help and is sometimes necessary. Whether you see a counselor or your primary care physician, a professional can help you get through when “winter blues” turn into depression. Depression is never something that should be ignored and you should never feel embarrassed to get help. We all need someone to lean on every now and then and that does not make you any less amazing!
As we slowly begin approach the start of March many of us are anxious for long, warm, sunny days. Until then, make sure to take care of yourself! If you notice that you or any of your friends or family members feel a little SAD, try out a few of my suggestion to help bring back the sunshine!
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