Winter makes me sad! I feel less motivated, more fatigued and sometimes it even makes me angry – why are you so cold! Where is the sun?!
There are many people that are affected by the seasons and in fact it even has a name – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. Often the symptoms start towards the end of Autumn and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Occasionally SAD can occur in Spring and early Summer.
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
• Tiredness or low energy
• Problems getting along with other people
• Hypersensitivity to rejection
• Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain
The specific causes of SAD remain unknown there are a few factors that can be linked to it:
• Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in Winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
• Serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
• Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
When to see a doctor
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
Other things you can do to increase your mood and the wrath of SAD:
• Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, sit closer to the windows or trim tress that allow more sunlight into the home or office. Try to get outside on your break when the sun is out (take a walk, eat your lunch in the park). Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help.
• Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Feeling fit and healthy can also increase your confidence which in turn can lift your mood J
• Include some Mind-body therapy into your daily or weekly schedule. This might include Yoga, Meditation, Massage therapy or acupuncture.
HOW CAN WHAT YOU EAT HELP WITH SAD?
As mentioned above some of the causes that may be linked to SADs includes decreased serotonin and melatonin levels. So, let’s eat foods that can help to naturally increase these levels!
How can we increase Serotonin levels?
Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan. The relationship between tryptophan and serotonin is part of what’s commonly considered the food-mood connection.
Serotonin isn’t found in foods, but tryptophan is. Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 all tend to contain large amounts of the amino acid. Unfortunately, though, boosting your serotonin levels isn’t as simple as eating a high tryptophan diet.
The tryptophan you find in food must compete with other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, so it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on your serotonin levels. However, eating foods high in tryptophan in conjunction with a healthy serving of carbohydrates CAN affect your serotonin levels. There’s a reason we crave ‘comfort’ foods such as potatoes, shepherd’s pies, pastas etc. in winter – When you eat carbohydrates, more insulin is released into your system. Insulin promotes the absorption of amino acids into the heart, muscles, and organs. The tryptophan left behind now makes up a larger portion of the blood’s amino acid “pool,” meaning that it is more likely it will be absorbed through the brain barrier.
The foods listed below contain high amounts of tryptophan. Your best chance at achieving a serotonin boost is to eat them often, with a serving of healthy carbohydrates, like rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain bread.
• Eggs – eggs on toast for breakfast, curried egg sandwiches for lunch, frittata with brown rice added.
• Cheese – snack on cheese and rice crackers, add cheese to a wholegrain wrap at lunchtime
• Pineapple – a little harder to combine with carbohydrates but could add to a shake with oats added or make pineapple muffins for a snack – yum!
• Nuts and seeds – make nut based wholegrain or oatmeal cookies or muffins, almond butter on toast for breakfast.
• Turkey – turkey and vegetables stir fry on rice, turkey wraps or sandwiches.
How do we increase our Melatonin levels?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Not only does it help with SAD, but it also controls your circadian (sleeping and waking) cycles and is responsible for regulating other hormones as well. It plays a role in regulating female reproductive hormones including menstruation and menopause.
Foods that can naturally boost your Melatonin levels include:
• Sweet corn
• Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may play a part in treating depression. These healthy fats are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts and some other foods.
So, if you have a case of the winter blues there are a few things you can do to try to alleviate the symptoms and increase your mood.
What do you do to brighten your mood in winter?
Mayo Clinic, 2014.
Natural Society, 2016.