I am sure you have noticed that our days have been getting shorter and that we now experience far less sun light exposure. At this time of year lots of people start to undergo a form of seasonal blues, lack of energy and emotional slumps. People who are especially sensitive to such changes of environment can sometimes be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Of course, children who experience troubles with learning, concentration, sensory issues and emotional challenges will be even more susceptible to lack of day light. For example, it was shown that deficiency of sun light can potentially lead Asperger’s children to have low self-esteem, feel disappointment, isolation, mood swings and a lack of motivation. Consequently, while everyone feels the shortage of light exposure, we all tolerate and adapt to it in different ways.
From a biological perspective, as the seasons shift, our bodies experience certain biochemical changes, which are absolutely normal! Although humans aren’t as seasonal as animals and we do not hibernate in the winter, environmental changes have a clear impact on our biology!
Our master clock, located in the hypothalamus, responds to light by secreting certain hormones such as serotonin, which helps the body to feel awake, alert and satisfied. When it is dark, serotonin is converted to melatonin, making the body feel sleepy. It is for this reason that lack of day light causes hormonal imbalance, leading to many troublesome consequences, including sleep disorders, behavioral problems, hormonal imbalances and stress. To summarise; HUMANS’ ARE VERY DEPENDENT ON LIGHT!
Have you noticed that during the winter we try to compensate for our low levels of serotonin by reaching for comfort food and eating lots of carbohydrates and sweets? This gives us instant but fleeting satisfaction, which passes quickly and leaves us with long-term consequences such as elevated levels of blood glucose, extra weight, irritability and insulin imbalance.
Here is a quick check list of typical signs of SAD:
- Depressed mood, low energy during the day
- Anxiety or irritation, not handling stress well
- Feeling lethargic and sleeping more than usual
- Difficulty to concentrate and focus
- Preferring to stay alone, less socializing
- Craving for easy carbohydrates and sweets
- Feeling a need for a sunlight
So, how can we prepare for this year’s winter? Here is a short list of changes you can implement into your routine, to ensure you experience a pleasant and energetic few months!
1) BALANCED DIET
Research has shown that the Mediterranean variety of diet lowers our chances of depression. Therefore, make sure you focus on oily organic fish like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, anchovies and seafood. Small amounts of good quality meat, together with organic dairy products (if you tolerate them) and eggs also reduce the odds of developing depression. This way you can get your fat-soluble, and absolutely health essential, vitamins A, D and K as well as vitamin B12, which is individually associated with combating depression and anxiety.
Consume plenty of nutrient-dense food like leafy greens and multicolored vegetables, including a few starchy products such as sweet potatoes and beetroot. Nuts, seeds, beans and lentils provide many necessary microelements as well.
A healthy gut helps our body to adapt to any stress, including seasonal changes. So, do not forget to eat fermented food like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and many others containing active live cultures.
By eating easily digestible food, such as fermented food, gluten-free food, cooked vegetables, bone broth, you save your body lots of energy, which you may need for other activities.
Additionally, turmeric is a fantastic product! I always say this because it is always true, and, in this case, my comment is especially relevant as turmeric has been proven to help with depression symptoms. Other spices like chili powder, saffron, vanilla, cloves, sage, nutmeg and black pepper also help fight depression and get your mood and activities back on track.
Do not forget to indulge yourself with a small bit of dark chocolate. Not a candy bar or milk chocolate; I’m talking about high-quality, 85% dark of higher, pure cocoa packed with potent and brilliant antioxidant polyphenol.
Notice that if you eat all of the above and minimize the amount of sugar and easy carbohydrates, such as bread, cookies, etc. you traditionally consume, you will not gain extra weight!
Please, remember that any dietary recommendation you apply must be based on your own individual response and food sensitivity profile!
2) CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTATION
Fish oil supplementation is a good way to ensure you consume a sufficient amount of both vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. The positive effects of EPA and DHA fatty acids and Vitamin D on brain health and general mood have been extensively demonstrated. I would, however, recommend checking your vitamin D levels with a blood test before increasing the amount of vitamin D you consume, as overdosing on vitamin D is not very healthy! Vitamin D is complementary with other fat-soluble vitamins (A and K) that work together for heart, bone, and immune health. You may consider supplementing them as well! Vitamin B12 may be another option to consider to keep your energy level and anxiety under control.
3) OTHER CHANGES TO IMPLEMENT
- Go outside every day even if it is chilly and raining and try to expose your arms and chest to the sun (if it is not too cold) for a few minutes to top up your level of vitamin D. Spending time outdoors helps fight our internal inclination to hibernate, restoring our mood and energy levels.
- Respect the natural day pattern as much as you can and make sure you go to bed earlier, as during the winter we need longer rest periods. No need to feel guilty for going to bed when you are tired! At the same time, make sure you maintain a steady sleep routine. Do not ingest any caffeine six hours before bed and avoid bright lights and screens in the late evening. Remember that even 5 minutes of white light can stop your melatonin production for 4 hours and can spoil the quality of your sleep.
- Consider Light therapy. Simply choose a lamp that illuminates at 10,000 lux and filters all UV light and set it up in your bedroom. You can configure the light for the morning, at least 30 min before your alarm goes off, so that your body receives enough light to build a biochemical response to ease your waking up process. Keep the lamp around you for another 30-60 min in the morning. You can do another 30 – 60 min in the afternoon if you feel your body needs it but avoid such light exposure in the evening. SAD lamps emit strong light, so be careful not to look directly into the bulbs!
- Look for other ways to improve your mood.
- Enjoy sitting by the fire if you have a fire place or lighting candles during long evenings, to provide yourself with additional emotional balance and stability
- Read an interesting book
- Do your favourite sport or activity and don’t forget to find time to meet your friends.
- Meditation if a very powerful tool for bringing depressive thoughts under control.
- Saunas help many people feel better by warming up their body temperature.
- Essential oils can provide good support for focusing, concentration and energy levels. Enjoy aromas of basil, lavender, bergamot, frankincense and geranium to lift your mood and energy.
Note that THE BEST RESULTS ARE ACHIEVED WHEN YOU IMPLEMENT COMBINATIONS OF THE ABOVE STEPS AS OPPOSED TO JUST ONE.
I hope this post helps you and your loved ones prepare for this traditionally melancholy season! By implementing these steps try instead to enjoy this time of year, and all the warmth, comfort, and pleasure it brings, instead of experiencing a lack of energy and concentration, depression and anxiety and a stagnation in all your activities.
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