Brighten Up Those Winter Blues

January-slower and bluesier

Nobody seems to mind winter during all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.  The cold and dark seem more like a part of the whole package at that time, while we race hither and thither to get all the shopping, gift-giving, entertaining, and meal preparations taken care of.  But now it’s January.  It’s been January for awhile now, and  while I love the  quiet and slowed pace at the beginning of the month, by mid-month winter begins to feel very long…..endless, in fact.  This is the time when the cold and dark can heighten feelings of stress, depression , fatigue, and some mindless eating which leads to unwanted weight gain.  We call it all the winter blues, those by-products of short days, unrelenting cold weather, confinement, and residual stress from the holiday season.  Those winter blues and lack of energy can cause us still more discomfort and unrest, as they can lower our immune systems exposing us to catching a cold and/or the flu.  And  neither one of those “nasties” will help to pull us out of a bluesie funk.  You know the story.

There is a way out.  The shortage of light during the winter time is very real, and in a very real way can affect our hormonal balance.  We may suffer from a lack of serotonin and melatonin.  The combination of melatonin, the hormone which our bodies produce to help us sleep, and serotonin, the hormone which regulates our mood and energy, work together in managing important aspects of our being.  Immunity, pain, digestion, sleep/wake cycles, body temperature, blood pressure, blood clotting, and daily body rhythms are all affected  by these two hormones.  It pays to know how to keep them at a nice productive level.  Read on.

Exercise – indoor


Exercise , an important component of health at any time,
is very important here in the dead of winter.  It increases levels of serotonin, which then relieves some of those blah and blue moods and sensations.  It also helps to relieve stress. Walks, even brief 15 minute ones, in some fresh air can do wonders in boosting a funky mood, sunshine or not.


Aromatherapy has also been shown to help levels of serotonin and melatonin.  Oils such as lavender and chamomile encourage us to have a restful sleep and prevent us from waking up moody.  These oils can be used in bath salts, bath oils, candles, and in oils applied to the bldy for cleansing, calming and balancing thoughts and emotions.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds

Nutrition plays a big part in either improving a good mood or increasing depression.  When our serotonin levels are low, we naturally crave carbohydrates, especially the simple kinds of it.  Consume, instead, good quality carbohydrates, organic, if possible, unprocessed and full of nutrition.  Specifically, go for the dark leafy greens, other vegetables, and fruit.  And the more of them that you eat raw, the more you will feel positive results.  On the other hand, processed, simple carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar in their many forms create a quick blood sugar spike shortly after being consumed, followed by a crash with feelings of not having taken any good fuel for life.  Raw  homemade trail mix is a great snack to have on hand, as are spreads like hummus, cut up raw vegetables and fruit, and some occasional popcorn.  Also, planning  more carbohydrate dense dinners will satisfy any late night munchies and help you to sleep better. 

Healthy oils and fats


Don’t be shy of fat.  Fats play a critical part in brain health. Omega 3 fatty acids help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals, dopamine and, you guessed it, serotonin.  Few people realize that they are lacking in omega -3 fatty acids.  Our brain’s cell membranes are made from Omega 3 fats.  Along with regulating mood and energy, serotonin enables  brain cells to communicate with each other by passing through the cell membranes. Our bodies can’t produce these fatty acids so we must consume them in our diets.  Omnivores eat fatty fish, such as Alaskan salmon and sardines, because they are a potent  form of omega 3s.  Other healthy forms are available for vegetarians and vegans from flaxseed, chi seeds, walnuts, canola and walnut oils, kale, collard greens, and winter squash.  The national Institutes of health (NIH) panel of experts recommend that people consume at least 2% of their daily calories as omega- 3 fats, about 4 grams a day for a diet of 2000 calories.  That is not a burdensome amount.  We just need to make sure we incorporate a good supply of omega-3s in our diets. 

Sunshine on the skin!

Get into the sun when you can.  Because the sun is not out as long, and we don’t get out as much in the colder months, we may suffer from low vitamin D.  Contrary to its name, this substance is actually a hormone which affects all areas of our body.  Although there are supplements of vitamin D, and many doctors prescribe them, too much vitamin D can be toxic.  The best option is to absorb vitamin D naturally from food and the sun. Make every effort to get some sun on your skin every time it’s a sunny day.  15 minutes or so will do, but without sunscreen, or through fabric or the glass of a building or a car. ) Vitamin D is bio-available in fatty fish, (salmon, tuna, sardines, and rainbow trout), fortifies milks, (including almond) and cereals, eggs, and Portobello mushrooms.

 

If you put all these ideas into practice, you will feel better – more positive and energetic.  Then, recall that spring is a mere 63 days away, and you’ll be skipping and singing though your days, wondering what you were ever feeling so blue about! There’s a thought that can lift your spirits!

 

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