I have always loved winters. Growing up in Southern California, we regularly drove up to the nearest mountain lodge to spend the day sledding, snowboarding and throwing snowballs at each other. But these days, winter has lost a bit of its luster for me after spending a few years in the DMV area.
As the days are getting shorter and the air is getting colder, some of us become more tired and maybe even a bit anxious or moody. Cocooning under blankets with a big bowl of carbs or a sugary treat tends to sound a whole lot better than putting on a bunch of layers just to get ready to go out and socialize with a crowd. For some of us, it’s harder to get out of bed and when we do, our mood resembles the season – cold and dark.
Understanding the science of body chemistry can help normalize our experience of feeling sudden changes in mood and productivity. With this knowledge, we can take preemptive steps to be intentional and conscientiousness with our day-to-day lifestyle choices.
Did you know that the sensitivity to the lack of sunlight resulting from winter’s shorter days disrupts our circadian rhythms? The circadian rhythm is our body’s internal clock, or sleep-wake cycle. It responds to changes between light and dark to help keep us feeling rested and regulated.
Without a healthy amount of sunlight, our brain works overtime producing melatonin. This is the hormone that tells our body that it’s time for sleep, which in turn can leave us feeling drowsy and low on energy at inconvenient times. The lack of sunlight also affects the workings of the hypothalamus, affecting the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us regulate our moods. All of these changes combined may lead to symptoms of depression, which will adversely affect our sleep, appetite, memory, and sex drive.
Fear not! Although we may not have control of mother nature per se, we do have control of our choices to help us combat these winter woes leaving us feeling more uplifted and productive.
- Eat a Serotonin-Boosting Diet – Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day with plenty of vegetables, fruit, protein sources, and healthy fats, will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid known as tryptophan, can help the body to boost serotonin naturally.
- Take the Right Supplements – Fish Oil: The omega-3 fatty acids help to maintain emotional balance and are beneficial to brain cell membranes. These are vital elements in maintaining healthy levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Vitamin D: There are many factors that affect symptoms of depression, including insufficiency of the “sunshine” vitamin. The best way to approach supplements are to get your levels checked and talk to a health care provider to develop the best plan for you.
- Get Physical Exercise – It’s important to stay physically active all year round. It’s not always easy to exercise in inclement weather, but exercising regularly in natural daylight can boost our “feel good” brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. Find exercises that are continuous and rhythmic such as walking, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or dancing. Even something as simple as walking the dog, where you move both your arms and legs can be a good exercise for you and the animal, as well as a great way to interact with others.
- Plan Something to Look Forward To – An effective way to help get out of a funk is to plan something to look forward to. Call an old friend for lunch, get tickets to a show or concert, plan a weekend getaway with a loved one. Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation as well as providing us with additional support and inspiration to make positive changes.
If at any point of the year, you are having concerns or noticing changes with your emotional well-being that are interfering with your daily life, it’s important to acknowledge it and seek help from a professional treatment provider.
Lindsay Enright, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Lindsay.