Are you one of those who see winter as the dreaded dreary cold months and get the winter blues? People who get those winter blues every year at the same time only for those months may have what’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a type of depression. For others it may just be the lack of sunlight, the cold weather and added stress of the approaching holidays that cause them to be somewhat depressed and low energy.
What Causes the Winter Blues?
Science has made some exciting discoveries lately that indicate you have a choice about happiness. Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, reported that feelings such as happiness, enthusiasm, joy and levels of high energy are linked to high activity levels in the left frontal cerebral cortex area of the brain whereas sad, anxious and worry type feelings are linked to activity in the right frontal area. Scientists have also reported finding how memories are processed in the brain to produce negative or positive emotions. In mice they have been able to change those emotions by manipulating brain cells. This indicates that negative emotions could be replaced with positive ones which according to senior author Susumu Tonegawa, director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA is what happens during psychotherapy treatment for depression.
Solutions for the Winter Blues
When you are down in the dumps or suffering with mild or even more severe depression, it doesn’t seem much like happiness is a choice. The more you can raise your emotional level though, the more happiness can be within your reach. If you are really down, you may have to take small steps up the emotional tone scale before you can begin to see happiness ahead. One way to achieve this is to find ways to stimulate your left brain activity. Research indicates for example that meditation is a good way to balance brain activity and involve the left brain more. Activities that involve spelling and math could also be options for stimulating left brain activity.
Staying active during the winter blues months is also an effective way to reducing stress and staying upbeat. Before the blues set in, get a list ready of indoor projects you’ve put off all year or find some volunteer work to engage in. Your home or office environment can also have an effect on your depression. Use bright lights and bright colored decorating ideas to cheer up the areas you spend a lot of time in. These months are also a time to be aware of your extra stress, lack of energy or depressive tendencies and give yourself a break. For example, you may need to tone down the amount you do to get ready for the holidays. Keep with the spirit of the holidays as far as the spirituality aspects, service to others, having fun and being close to family and friends instead of worrying about your house being spotless. Consider having a potluck holiday party rather than you doing all the cooking yourself and order gifts online instead of battling your way through crowded malls. Ideas such as these will help reduce your holiday stress level and help keep those winter blues at bay.
If you are prone to the winter blues, then winter is a time for you to find lots of reasons to laugh. Laughter, as well as physical activity, causes the brain to release endorphins that give us a lift and make us feel better. Go out with friends, watch comedies, read joke books, look at old family pictures or whatever you know makes you laugh. Music is something else that can help lift your spirits. Research indicates that certain pieces or types of music help more than others when it comes to depression, but any type of music you enjoy can help raise your emotional tone. Make a cd of your favorite songs or load up a folder with them on your Ipod and keep it playing throughout the day. Having mood lifting aromas surrounding you can also help with the winter blues. Lemon, almond, rose, geranium, peppermint and lavender are all scents that have been found to lift moods. The smell of baking bread or cookies can also be mood lifting for some people. Gretchen Rubin, creator of the Happiness Project, suggests that you give yourself something to look forward to when struggling with the blues. Make plans to do something fun or interesting during the coming week and just the anticipation of it can help lift your mood.
Nutrition for the Winter Blues
It is very tempting when feeling down or depressed to reach for comfort foods to make us feel better. These types of foods are often processed, sugar, fat and carb filled treats though which are not only unhealthy for the body, but also for the mind. Much research has been done showing a correlation between depression and processed foods. These studies have reported results such as food with added sugar interfering with brain chemicals that affect mood and eating foods with lots of trans fats causing an increase in the risk of depression by 48%. When you are already suffering with winter blues, you need to make sure you are getting lots of good brain foods that will support the production of feel good brain chemicals. That would include foods high in omega 3 fatty acids such as fish, walnuts, olive oil and AFA bluegreen algae, foods high in folate, a B vitamin the brain needs to produce chemicals that affect mood, foods with antioxidant polyphenols that help increase calmness and contentment and foods with amino acids which are the building blocks of protein that your brain needs to function well. This doesn’t mean you have to settle for foods that you won’t perceive as being a treat. Dark chocolate high in cocoa content gives an extra boost to brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
Nutritional supplements can also help give you the nutrition that is supportive of brain health. AFA bluegreen algae has the nutrients, minerals and vitamins healthy brains crave and there are several algae supplements that also contain other ingredients known to help with stress and depressive symptoms. For example, this algae supplement also has wheatgrass juice, cordyceps mushrooms, bee pollen, turmeric, noni, and green tea. Turmeric in particular has been shown to help with stress related depression. Curcumin, found in turmeric, has been the basis of much research and found to have benefit for enhancing memory, for enhancing nerve growth in areas of the brain and as an antidepressant. It is also being studied and used in relation to treating Alzheimer’s. Another algae supplement with a combination of ubiquinol, reishi and oyster mushrooms, polyphenols from olives was designed to activate cellular energy to support a healthy cardiovascular system necessary for improving energy levels. Ubiquinol for example is an active antioxidant form of coenzyme Q10 which is important for stress relief and improved daily energy. And then there is this algae supplement that also has eleuthero, Ginkgo biloba, Lion’s Mane mushroom, bee pollen, wheatgrass juice, and noni. Bee pollen is reported to have a high amino acid content useful for stimulating memory and concentration, wheatgrass juice has been found to provide nutrients that support brain health and clearer thinking, and Gingko biloba has been used for a long time to promote increased memory and mental concentration by increasing circulation and providing increased oxygenation of brain cells. This combination means support to help you function when stress overwhelms you and put your mood back on an even keel.
You don’t have to succumb to the winter blues this year. If happiness is a choice, choose it for yourself. Using some of these tips and nutritional advice can help you find natural ways to lift your mood and have a more enjoyable winter season this year.
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