As the days become shorter and the temperatures drop, we find ourselves trading sandals for sneakers and short sleeves for long. We may spend more time indoors drinking warm beverages and filling up on seasonal comfort foods. After a long day at work, we may park ourselves in front of the television, feeling increasingly “blah” as the days pass by.
For more than three million people in the US, annual autumn doldrums are more than a minor nuisance. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is related to changes in the seasons, and can present as hopelessness, agitation, anxiety, depression, and/or changes to sleep and appetite. For those who suffer, SAD severely impacts quality of life.
There is a much larger segment of the population that suffers from a milder form of SAD, known as the “winter blues.” Winter blues can manifest as a lack of motivation, difficulties with sleeping, and a general feeling of malaise… or “blah”-ness.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to mitigate these winter blues, and most fall under the category of “self care.” Self-care refers to taking the time and steps necessary to put yourself first and attend to your own needs. Interestingly, many of those very things you would choose to do for self-care have been scientifically shown to boost mood!
Winter blues and SAD can result from a decrease in serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) in our brains. In the warmer months, days are long and temperatures are high, and we tend to spend more time outdoors with more skin exposed. Exposure to sunlight allows the skin to produce vitamin D, which activates the enzyme that converts tryptophan to serotonin. In addition, sunlight entering your eyes stimulates the parts of your retina that tell your brain to make serotonin. We also tend to move around more in the warmer months, whether swimming, hiking, or just being out and about. This physical activity increases the firing rate of serotonin neurons directly, and also increases the levels of tryptophan in the brain (which makes more serotonin).
Thus, the first two things we can do to take care of ourselves as, or before, the winter blues set in are to get more sunlight and to get more exercise.
Although the natural tendency is to hunker down indoors on chilly days, try to get outside for at least 15-20 minutes in the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky. Even if the day is cloudy, UVB rays from the sun can still interact with a protein (7-DHC) in the skin to manufacture vitamin D3.
While you may not get a serotonin boost if you sit by the window, as most windows filter out UVB rays, indirect sunlight can boost your mood in other ways. Bright sunlight is responsible for maintaining our circadian rhythm and a whole host of biological processes that keep our bodies functioning optimally, so we feel more awake and focused. If you are lucky enough to have windows in your office, open those blinds! Let the natural light fill the space as much as possible.
If it’s not possible to sit by a window during the day, green light therapy can be a helpful option, providing similar mood-elevating effects as natural light. Use a dichroic green light (150 W PAR 38) regularly for at least 20 minutes before falling asleep and after waking up. Green light will help rebalance the pineal control center, resulting in less harmful impacts from stress and an overall better-regulated mood.
As mentioned earlier, movement can increase serotonin levels in your brain, so one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself is to get some exercise. Exercise also supports bone health and helps to lower blood pressure.
If the thought of “exercise” makes you cringe, find an activity you enjoy. Pilates, yoga, Tai chi Chuan, Aikido, Trager/Feldenkrais movement techniques, spin classes, swimming, skating, tennis, pickleball, biking, hiking, dancing, visiting a climbing gym, or simply walking around the block a few times are just a few ideas for moving your body. If you work in an office, be sure to take breaks to walk around, preferably outdoors. Not only will exercise and movement boost your mood, but it also can improve the condition of your heart and lungs, build muscle tone and strength, and maintain healthy bones to lower your risk of osteoporosis.
Many people instinctively grab dark chocolate when they are feeling blah, and it turns out there is science behind that! High quality organic dark chocolate contains many mood-boosting chemicals that work both directly and indirectly in the brain.
Flavanols help protect the brain from free-radical damage through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. Theobromine is a caffeine-like stimulant compound in chocolate that increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Phenylethylamine stimulates the release of dopamine, a pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter, in the brain. The tryptophan in chocolate is converted to serotonin to help boost mood. Dark chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins. These components in chocolate all work together to help us feel better.
A recent study showed that 85% dark chocolate (but not 70%) also had a prebiotic effect in the gut helping to improve diversity and abundance of intestinal bacteria. It also improved mood by a significant amount, so the authors suggested a mechanism via the gut-brain axis.
So definitely reach for a little dark chocolate (in moderation) as part of your self-care ritual.
Eat well: Maintain a Healthy Gut
Did you know that the bacteria in your gut produce more than 90% of the serotonin in your body? So, another way to maintain a positive mood is by maintaining a healthy gut.
Choose foods that are organic and natural rather than processed and filled with chemicals and anti-nutrients. Fill your plate and your belly with a variety of organic fruits vegetables, nuts, grasses, and line-caught fatty fish to boost energy production while reducing inflammation.
Take a Relaxing Bath
Another great way to boost serotonin levels in the body is by taking a “salt and soda” bath. Combine a half-cup of Epsom salts with a half-cup of baking soda in hot bath water and soak for 20 minutes. Epsom salts are another name for magnesium sulfate, and magnesium in the body is needed to convert tryptophan to serotonin, improving mood. Simply soaking in a warm bath itself helps release tension, soothe sore muscles, and promote better sleep.
Get Restorative Sleep
With the shorter days, even though it may seem counterintuitive, getting a good night’s sleep may be challenging for many. Don’t forget that restorative sleep is absolutely essential. During sleep, our immune defense and repair system is most active, and abnormal cells get marked for destruction or recycled into useful building blocks for the body. Poor sleep can lead to irritability and even depression. As part of your self-care routine, incorporate relaxing rituals into your bedtime, keep screens out of the bedroom, avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch, and keep your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible.
Test for Hidden Allergies
Sometimes hidden insensitivities or intolerances can keep us from feeling as well as we should. And when we don’t feel well, our mood often suffers. As another self-care measure, treat yourself to delayed allergy testing, and remove offending foods from your diet and chemicals from your environment. Lymphocyte Response Assay (LRA) tests can detect all three types of delayed food and chemical hypersensitivities, by directly examining lymphocytes, the body’s long lived, memory-carrying white blood cells that indicate health and disease in the body.
Supplement Key Nutrients
Even if you’re eating a healthy diet loaded with vitamins and minerals, it’s not always possible to get all of the needed nutrients from diet alone. Everyone’s supplement list should at the very least include a multivitamin, vitamin D3, vitamin C, and omega 3 fatty acids. If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, consider a
PERQUE Life Guard™ and PERQUE Life Guard™ Mini are complete multivitamin, multimineral formulas that contain vitamins, minerals and cofactors that have various actions in the body to not only boost mood, but to decrease inflammation and keep cells functioning at their best.
PERQUE D3 Cell Guard™, contains vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D that has been shown to boost mood in winter. Since we cannot get enough of this needed vitamin in the months when the sun’s angle is lower in the sky and less skin is exposed, PERQUE D3 cell Guard can help provide that needed boost to mood, as well as support bones, brain, heart and immune system function.
Supplementing with a high-quality vitamin C will help you stave off winter colds, but it can also help reverse the “blahs.” A study of male college students in New Zealand showed that high vitamin C levels corresponded with elevated mood. PERQUE Potent C Guard ™ Powder is pH balanced, vegetarian, and allergen-free.
The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are needed for normal brain function, and many people do not get enough of these vital anti-inflammatory nutrients. There is considerable research that shows that there can be improvement in depressive symptoms with fish-oil supplements. PERQUE EPA/DHA Guard™ is a synergistic combo of Omega-3 essential fatty acids that help remove plaque build-up in the heart and improve brain cell communication.
Finally, if you are looking to both improve restorative sleep and increase serotonin levels, consider supplementing with PERQUE Sleep Guard™. This pure L- tryptophan formulation includes vitamins B2 and B6 for enhanced uptake and function, and enhances serotonin and melatonin production in a natural, physiological way, resulting in restorative sleep with health restoring sleep rhythms, and better brain activity, mood and energy.*
As the days get shorter and the leaves turn vibrant shades before falling to the earth below, be sure to take the needed time to take care of yourself. Avoid the winter blues (and worse) by making sure to include movement and sunlight into your daily routine. Add a little dark chocolate, maintain a healthy gut, take a salt and soda bath, get restorative sleep, test for immune system intolerances, and supplement key nutrients… and you will be well prepared to weather the seasonal changes ahead.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.