Beating the Winter BluesHave you been affected by the winter blues?
In recent weeks there have been unusually high amount of rain, shorter period of sunlight, and drops in temperature. I found that during these times my moods, energy levels, sleep and eating habits change. My generally happy disposition started to wane. It’s amazing how the change in climate can bring about such changes to how we feel.
Here are some natural ways to beat the winter blues:
1) Nourish the Nervous System
Eating the right foods including fresh vegetables and fruits, adequate water, whole grains and good sources of protein can influence how we feel.
According to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, eating fresh vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, and whole grains lowered the likelihood of mild anxiety and depressive disorders. 1
Slow releasing energy foods such as whole grains and vegetables help to stabilise blood sugar levels and improve stamina. Sugar has been linked to mood through the excessive release of insulin, contributing to falls in blood sugar levels. 2
Nuts have a positive effect on moods. Researchers suggests that mixed nuts (raw, unpeeled almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts) are linked to higher levels of serotonin, a hormone that controls energy levels, associated with mood, sleep, appetite and mental focus. 3
Fish / Salmon / Flaxseeds are all Omega 3 essential fatty acids rich foods that contain dexocahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is highly concentrated in the brain. These foods have positive effects on mental health. 4
Leafy greens are high in nutrients such as beta-carotene, folate, lutein, and vitamin K. Researchers acknowledge that these nutrients positively influent brain health, keeps mental abilities sharp, as well as help preserve brain functions. Leafy greens provide magnesium essential for energy as well as help to reduce muscle tension. Some leafy greens to include in your daily meals are spinach, kale, bok choy, silverbeet, rocket, parsley and broccoli. 5, 6
Green Tea will help keep you mellow. A Japanese study found that those who drank five (5) or more cups of green tea daily possess lower level of psychological stress over those who drank less than one (1) cup. L-theanine in green tea is known to promote relaxation, reduce stress and mild anxiety. 7
Chamomile Tea is traditionally used to soothe the nervous system, calm the digestive system and promote sleep, chamomile helps to relax the body after a tense day.
2) Nutrients for good moods
Certain nutrients can support the body’s adrenal and nervous system to cope better with stress, anxiety and enhance mood. A variety of nutrients such as B complex, magnesium, vitamin C, Zinc, Omega 3 and probiotics can affect neurotransmitters involved in brain activity such as memory, sleep, appetite as well as mood. These key nutrients are discussed below.
Some important neurotransmitters involved in mood include:
- GABA is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness, calm and relaxation
- Serotonin plays a role in mood, sleep, appetite, impulsive and aggressive behaviour
- Dopamine is a key player in mood and memory
- Endorphins are associated with pain relief and feelings of pleasure
- Adrenaline is involved in energy and glucose metabolism
B Complex – provides nutritional support for healthy nervous system function and times of stress. B6 is required for the synthesis of several neurotransmitters, including GABA, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline and serotonin. 8
Magnesium – is a mineral responsible for the relaxation of muscles, it is beneficial to promote restful sleep and support the nervous system cope with stress and tension.
Vitamin C – supports the nervous system and plays a role in the manufacture of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters (including dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline). 8
Zinc – present in high levels in the brain, plays a role in neurotransmission mediated by GABA. 8
Omega 3 Essential Fats – is involved in a number of biological process associated with brain function. Studies have shown an association between the consumption of Omega 3 and mood. 9
Probiotics – Scientist have found that probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts associated with sad moods. Incorporating probiotic rich foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, or a probiotic supplement may contribute to a positive gut and mind. 10
Herbs that support the adrenal and nervous system
Rhodiola, Kava, Passion flower, St John’s Wort, Zizyphus, Hops, Vervain and Withania support the body’s adrenal system to cope better with stress, aid with sleep, calm the nervous system as well as enhance energy.
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is known to enhance the body’s stress response. It is believed to have an influence of neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline in the brain and cortisol in the adrenals. Rhodiola both lifts and calms nervous system responses. 11
- St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - is known to be beneficial for mild anxiety and mild depression medicines. 11
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), is a traditional sedative herb. Other actions include hypnotic, antispasmodic and anodyne. It combines well with St John’s Wort in helping to relieve sleeplessness, mild anxiety and restlessness.
- Kava influences neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and sleep, in particular GABA. As such, it promotes calm and the release of tension and helps reduce mild anxiety.
- Zizyphus (Zyziphus jujuba) – traditionally used in Chinese medicine for the relief of sleeplessness, irritability, mild anxiety and nervous exhaustion, and has also been used to treat spontaneous sweating and night sweats, especially when accompanied by anxiety, palpitations and insomnia.
- Hops (Humulus lupulus) calms the nervous system.
- Vervain (Verbena officinalis) is a sedative and relaxant to the nervous system.
Withania has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for its adaptogenic properties to assist vitality, endurance, stamina, particularly during times of stress.
3) Think happy thoughts
I’m sure you’ve come across the notion that you are what you think. Positive thinking helps to overpower negative thoughts. Actively choosing to think positively, not sweating over the small stuff and appreciating life’s gifts can be incredibly uplifting and energising to the spirit.
A grateful diary or empowering words of inspirations are wonderful ways to appreciate life’s treasures.
Talk to yourself with positive affirmations. In the case of mild anxiety and the need for calming, try positive self-affirming messages "All will be well", or "I always cope, just breathe and relax".
4) Minimise triggers – alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars, processes carbohydrates are types of depressants, which should be limited or avoided.
5) Get out there
Exercise contributes to health and happiness by releasing endorphins. Book yourself into a gym, this way it affirms your commitment.
Outdoor activities and enjoying nature can help calm the nerves and relax the body. I find that once my feet touch the grass or sand, my whole body feels centred, my mind calmer and my tension seems to melt away.
Being outdoors is also a great way of soaking in some sun and thus increasing your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is associated with the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which effect brain function, development and how we feel. 12
6) Follow a daily routine
Sleeping, eating and exercising at regular times. With spare time to pursue hobbies such as arts, craft or reading
A full night’s sleep (8 hours each night) rejuvenates the body.
Certain essential oils can evoke certain emotions and moods. Scented candles or essential oil burners can transform your mood. Uplift the senses with orange, lemon, rose, ginger, rosemary, jasmine and geranium. Create a calm, peaceful environment with chamomile, juniper, melissa or lavender.
8) Create a cheerful environment
Fill your environment with bright and cheerful colours you like, such as flowers, cushions, bed covers and indoor plants. Open doors and windows daily to bring in fresh air and create new energy into the home. Himalayans salt lamps provide an uplifting environment and change the mood and energy in the home.
Controlled breathing features in the practice of yoga, tai chi and meditation to help promote relaxation and reduce stress. Scientific studies have shown that controlling your breath can help to manage stress and stress-related conditions.
The key is to abdominal breath rather than upper chest breathing. Sit comfortably in a quiet environment. With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose raising the diaphragm (not the chest), breath out slowly through the mouth. Continue with 6-10 deep slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes daily for 6 weeks. 13
10) Call a friend – reconnect with a favourite friend for an uplifted mood.
11) Go on a vacation – take a break and venture to warmer climate – the anticipation of a new venture or holiday uplifts the spirit. It’s an opportunity to experience different cultures, food, people, places, as well as offers quality time with family, to revive the body or just chill out.
12) Take time for yourself – Nurture yourself, journal your thoughts, take a hot bath, read a book, sit in nature, embrace love, let your inner-self sing with joy.
If you need help with shaking off the winter blues, don’t be afraid to seek out advice and treatment. Speak to your healthcare professional or contact Lifeline Australia on 131114.
1. Jacka FN, Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. Am J Psychiatry 2010 Mar;167(3):305-11)
2. Christensen L , Impact of a dietary change on emotional distress. J Abnorm Psychol. 1985 Nov;94(4):565-79)
3. Sara Tulipani, Metabolomics Unveils Urinary Changes in Subjects with Metabolic Syndrome following 12-Week Nut Consumption (2011) J. Proteome Res., 2011, 10 (11), pp 5047–5058
4. The Omega-3 Centre, http://omega-3centre.com/research/mood
5. Medine Plus, Leafy Greens and Your Brain, March 31, 2015 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/videos/news/Leafy_Greens_033115-1.html.
6. Morris , M, Eating green leafy vegetables keeps mental abilities sharp, Martha Clare Morris, American Society for Nutrition annual meeting, Boston, March 28-April 1, 2015, FASEB, http://experimentalbiology.org/PDFS/2015/ASN-Morris-Greens-FINAL.aspx
7. Atsushi Hozawa, Green tea consumption is associated with lower psychological distress in a general population: the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov 2009, Vol90 No5:1390-1396
8. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Centre, Cognitive Function http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrients-health/cognitive-function
9. Beydoun M, Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intakes Are Inversely Related to Elevated Depressive Symptoms among United States Women, The Journal of Nutrition. Sept 4, 2013
10. Laura Steenbergena, A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood, 2015 Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159115000884
11. Moss A, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies in Mood Disorders , Expert Rev Neurother. 2011;11(7):1049-1056
12. Greenblatt J, Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency. Vitamin D supplementation may help depression. Nov 14, 2011 in The Breakthrough Depression
13. Breathing to reduce stress, Better Health Channel, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Breathing_to_reduce_stress?open