Turning back the clocks is often a pivotal moment in people’s thinking. Short, dark days can often negatively affect mood, energy and appetite. However, with greater understanding of how we can effectively ‘by-pass’ the winter, we can enjoy the season rather than wishing the next six months away!
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how we can boost our mood and keep on smiling through the winter.
It’s estimated that as many as one in 15 people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or winter depression1 . The onset of SAD is often governed by our hormones and the disturbance of natural body rhythms. The body naturally likes to wake up when it’s light, which is rarely possible for most people during the winter months.
Here are some of my top tips for minimising the winter blues.
EAT YOURSELF HAPPY
Certain hormones have a significant impact on seasonal changes in mood, energy and appetite; a lack of serotonin is often responsible for mood disorders in general. People (especially those affected by SAD) frequently crave carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, cereal, cakes and biscuits. There’s nothing wrong with eating starchy carbohydrates as long as you stick to unrefined whole grain carbs such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and oats and avoid the sugary-laden snacks.
You can also increase serotonin levels by eating more foods containing the amino acid, tryptophan. Great foods to eat include chicken, turkey, milk, yoghurt, bananas, figs, tuna and oats.
Levels of another brain neurotransmitter – dopamine – are also reduced during the darker months. Foods that help to raise dopamine levels include lean meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.
BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR
During the winter months symptoms of low mood, lack of energy and increased appetite are common. One of the ways to combat these is to balance blood sugar levels so that energy is sustained throughout the day. This, in turn, will help to balance mood and stop food cravings.
The most important point to remember is to eat three meals a day that each contain some form of protein. If you need a couple of snacks in between, that’s fine, but try to include some protein as well. For example, sliced apple with nuts, oatcakes with chicken, plain yoghurt with fruit etc. Additionally, it’s best to avoid or dramatically reduce coffee, alcohol, sugar and cigarettes which play havoc with blood sugar levels.
The control centres in our brain determine our moods and daily rhythms, which in part are governed by the amount of light that enters our eyes. When the light hits the retina of the eye it effects the release of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is released during darkness, making us sleepy. This is one of the reasons we feel tired during the winter because it’s dark much of the time!
Light or phototherapy is a treatment for SAD involving daily exposure to high-intensity, broad-spectrum artificial light from a light box, which suppresses the release of melatonin. It appears to work really well although sufferers usually need to make the other changes to diet and lifestyle for maximum benefit.
TRY THE HERB ST JOHN’S WORT
This popular and well-known herb is found in many part of the world, including Europe, Asia and the United States. It produces distinctive yellow flowers and many parts of the plant are used to create a very effective natural solution to help symptoms of low mood.
St John’s wort appears to help raise serotonin levels which in turn improve mood and motivation. It generally takes around three weeks to really see results but it’s certainly worth persevering.
For more information and to try St John’s Wort visit the Nature’s Way website.
We all know that the body naturally loves to be active. However, we’re also now realising the wonderful benefits of exercise on mental health. Indeed, health practitioners involved in treating depression have seen how effective it can be.
When we exercise or ‘get active’ the brain releases endorphins which are powerful chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. Exercise also relieves feelings of stress and anxiety and actually helps raise energy levels.
If the gym is not for you, don’t despair. Just getting more active, for example taking a brisk 30- minute walk in the fresh air, can really invigorate and raise your mood. So, instead of reaching for the remote control and hiding under the duvet when it’s damp and dull outside, get out there!
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