Tips to Beat the Winter Blues
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
So it’s that time of year when the days are short, the weather is not ideal (at least in my part of the world) and the February blues are sneaking in.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the very appropriate acronym S.A.D) is a type of depression or feeling down at this time of year.
It is sometimes called the Winter Blues and is related to the amount of daylight to which people are exposed. It is linked to the body’s internal clock which controls temperature and hormone production and it may also be related to levels of melatonin in the body.
Every year as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, 2-3% of people will experience severe symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder that may require professional intervention. About 15% of people will have the less severe ‘Winter Blues’. Here are some tips to beat the winter blues
Food and the Winter Blues
When we go into hibernation mode at this time of year, we crave carbohydrate rich ‘comfort foods’. I know this is true for me. I want to get bundled up on the couch, watch movies and eat chips and dip 🙂
1) Increase your veggies and decrease your high glycemic carbohydrate binges.
Foods rich in carbohydrates contribute to a chemical reaction in the brain where more serotonin (the feel good hormone) is synthesized and that helps mood to improve. That’s why mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and sugary chocolate are ‘comfort foods’.
You can get this same serotonin benefit by eating foods that are rich in carbohydrates but that will not contribute to weight gain and sluggishness. Guess what? Vegetables and fruits are rich in carbohydrates without the sugar/insulin challenges of the comfort foods that we all love so much.
2) Eat foods rich in Vitamin D.
With the shorter days and less sunshine, we are getting less Vitamin D, which is related to S.A.D.
If it’s possible, get your face in the sun if you can. If it’s not, eat foods that are rich in Vitamin D such as fatty fish (wild salmon, sardines, arctic char, anchovies), egg yolks, mushrooms.
It is also a good idea to supplement 1000-3000 IU of Vitamin D in these darker months.
3) Get more Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These important nutrients help to protect against depression as they affect neurotransmitter pathways in the brain.
Eat fatty fish, flax and nuts and supplement with Fish oil throughout the winter months to battle the blues.
4) Eat Breakfast
This is important but I would also recommend staying away from ‘typical’ breakfast foods like cereal and toast, muffins and bagels (these are all high glycemic carbohydrate rich foods).
Get some great healthy protein and fats into your day which will lead to improved mood, better energy throughout the day and a feeling of calmness
5) Don’t over-do Caffeine
In some people, caffeine can cause an exacerbation of depression because it can disrupt your sleep… so make sure to ease up on the coffee, especially within the 3 hours before bedtime.
Exercise and the Winter Blues
There are many psychological and physical benefits of exercise that can help to reduce anxiety and improve mood during this blah time of year.
1) Exercise releases feel good brain chemicals like endorphins that may ease depression.
2) Exercise also reduces the stress hormone cortisol which will help to ease anxiety
3) Exercising, especially earlier in the day, will help you to have a good night’s sleep which is especially important in synthesizing hormones that will improve your mood.
4) Increasing your body temperature with exercise has a calming effect (think about how relaxed you feel in a hot bath)
5) Exercise will also help you to take your mind off your worries, gain confidence, boost your immune system and give you a chance to hang out with friends!!
So say goodbye to the Winter Blues (or at least tolerate them with some great strategies) by making some adjustments to your diet and getting your heart rate up on a regular basis.
Spring is coming… hopefully soon 🙂
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.