Between dealing with the drama of the holidays, finals (if you’re in school or have a kid in school), and the short days and cold weather, the last few months of the year can be a real Debbie Downer.
Some of us are able to take these winter elements in stride, but for others it’s a losing battle that will put you and those around you in a funk. Who wants to endure a bad mood for an entire season for seemingly no apparent reason?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real concern that can make the holidays and the start of the new year feel like something to avoid, rather than something worth looking forward to.
SAD is a disturbance of mood in which an otherwise mentally healthy person experiences sadness, melancholy or depression during the same time every year. The most common time of year for SAD to occur is during the winter, although it can happen at any point of the year.
Don’t fret! Doctors To You has five easy things you can do now to help relieve or prevent the effect of the cold winter season on your mental health.
1 – Eat the right food
Like many other health issues, SAD can be prevented and even cured with food. Food should be the first line of defense (or offense if you’re the preventative maintenance type), and since you have to have food every day, several times a day, make sure you’re putting in the right stuff to put you or keep you in a good mood.
Here’s a treat: chocolate. The right type of chocolate has a number of valuable health benefits, and one is its mood-boosting effect. “Dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that bring on feelings of pleasure. It also contains the chemical serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant.”
What else would you expect from something that tastes amazing, gives you great looking skin and helps you keep your heart strong?
However, you must eat the right type of chocolate, so milk chocolate, which is full of dairy and sugar, unfortunately, doesn’t count. Look for organic chocolates with 70% or more cacao. Also, try avoiding preservatives and soy in chocolate when possible. The best way to do this is to get cacao nibs or powder and mix it into shakes or use it with other recipes. It’s actually really good in Greek yoghurt.Avocados are another mood booster. Avacados are known as “The Healthy Fruit,” because they’re full of healthy fats, but also contain protein, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, B vitamins, vitamin E and vitamin K, which makes for a great antioxidant and protector against heart disease.
Other foods to keep on hand that help boost or stabilize mood are: raw nuts (walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, and cashews), bananas, strawberries, salmon, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, which have probiotic elements that contribute to healthy gut bacteria.
2 – Focus on your “thing”
This may sound simple… because it is! During the cold, short days, we tend to discontinue doing the things we like doing because going outdoors is less desirable.
Finding or maintaining refuge in the things that make you smile or boost your self-confidence is important to your overall mood and wellness. If you like playing sports, find the indoor version of your game. There are a number of adult intramural sports groups that have indoor, year-round leagues you can join. Here in DC, United Social Sports and DC Social feature all kinds of sports from bar games to yoga that are easy to join.
Whatever you like doing, whether it’s binge watching your favorite shows online or reading new books during these early nights of winter, keeping your mind clear and honing in on the things you love to do will contribute to keeping a good mood.
3 – Get out
You must find the sun. There’s a strong correlation between SAD and the darker times of year when there’s less sunlight, resulting in a lack of vitamin D.
Lack of vitamin D, a vitamin we absorb naturally from the sun, has great consequences. “Vitamin D is also the only vitamin that is a hormone. After it is consumed in the diet or absorbed (synthesized) in the skin, vitamin D is then transported to the liver and kidneys where it is converted to its active hormone form. Vitamin D as a hormone assists with the absorption of calcium, helping to build strong bones, teeth and muscles.” – via Psychology Today
Finding the sun, even in the uncomfortable weather of winter, can play an important role in whether you feel up or down.
If you’re a writer, try getting up with the sun and going to a coffee shop to write. Whether you find the sun or only find a few breaths of fresh air, getting out can still help you avoid being brought down by the indoor blues.
4 – Workout
Exercise along with the right food is a perfect prescription for most anything. Working up a good sweat releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the body that tell the brain that you’re feeling good. Endorphins actually mask your perception of pain, including mental pain, and activate a feeling similar to that of morphine (a powerful pain medication).
“Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication… Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.” – via Health Guide
So taking up a new workout routine may have benefits outside of helping you achieve that new body you want to reveal next summer!
5 – People
Being around [non-toxic] people is a surefire way of keeping your head in the right place. One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to eat with people.
The Atlantic details both nutritional and psychological benefits of eating together: “Sadly, Americans rarely eat together anymore. In fact, the average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.”
Eating is only one part of the equation, but it boils down to the fact that we were not made to be alone–at least not all the time. Sharing commonalities through talking, laughing and overall exchange of energy with others can help boost morale and keep us focused on the good things in life.
Ever heard that old saying, “Dance like nobody’s watching”? Music along with movement has a positive effect on mental health, even if you believe you “can’t” dance well. Prevention calls dancing the “happiness trick you haven’t tried.”
What to look out for…
The symptoms for SAD can include trouble sleeping (insomnia), weight loss, poor appetite, agitation, irritation or anxiety, and may even involve fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.
Mental disorders should not be taken lightly. In some cases, a hormonal or chemical imbalance are to blame and may require more direct attention. If your normal daily routine is disrupted by a change in your mental state, please do not hesitate in contacting a psychologist, therapist or mental health professional for help.