The term ‘winter blues’ is nothing new, but it turns out there is actually science behind it. In fact, if you’re feeling down in the dumps when the temperature drops, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a recognised mental-health condition characterised by depressive symptoms, low energy and moodiness during colder months. It’s more common in the Northern hemisphere, but don’t underestimate the impact South Africa’s shorter days could have on your mood.
Add to that bouts of flu, cold weather and lack of energy, it’s no wonder getting out of bed is a struggle. But never fear! We’ve gathered some expert tips to help winterproof your mood.
Read more: How you can live a better life today
Here’s how you can winterproof your mood and beat the winter blues:
Try a supplement
Vitamin D: It’s proven that vitamin D can help ease symptoms of mild depression, and the best way to get it is through direct exposure to sunlight on the skin. Since we tend to spend more time indoors during winter, make sure you also take a supplement. Try ReVite Vitamin D Bottled Sunshine, R41.95. Adults should get about 2000 IU of vitamin D per day – if you’re not sure you’re getting enough, speak to your GP.
Vitamin B: B vitamins are known to play a role in producing mood-boosting brain chemicals. ‘Rich sources are found in eggs, meat, fish oats and brown rice,’ says Lily Soutter, a nutritionist and weight-loss expert. Try Vital Vitamin B complex, R111.95.
Probiotics: ‘Diet, lifestyle and stress can cause an imbalance of “good” gut flora,’ says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson. Studies also show that when gut bacteria is imbalanced, there’s a strong link to depression and anxiety. ‘Take a probiotic to help restore the balance and include fermented foods in your daily diet, like miso or sauerkraut,’ advises Shona. Try ProbiFlora Adult Intensive Rescue, R159.95.
Whether it’s with your partner or your toddler, having a little cuddle will do wonders for your mood. This is because the feel-good hormone oxytocin is released. So the next time you’re feeling low, grab a hug from your favourite person and give your mood a boost.
Wake up brighter
Waking up in the dark every morning can be daunting, but a dawn simulation technique can make it easier to crawl out from under your duvet. Switch your light on when your alarm goes off or on that early-morning trip to the loo – this will induce a natural morning wakefulness.
It’s not an excuse to chow down on takeaways, but making sure you’re getting enough healthy fats is essential for brain health and mood. ‘Studies have shown that an increase in levels of omega-3 fats (found in oily fish) can correlate with an increase in serotonin,’ says Lily. Adding oily fish like salmon, pilchards, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies into your diet is a great way to up your omega-3 intake.
Green tea is a great mood booster. It contains caffeine to help pick you up, but also the amino acid theanine. ‘Theanine has a relaxing effect and may help to relieve anxiety by increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine (responsible for reward and pleasure), and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA, which has a relaxant effect),’ says Shona. If the slightly bitter taste is too much for you, try taking theanine capsules instead.
Some foods help boost your production of serotonin – one of the happy hormones. Kiwis, bananas, plums, tomatoes and walnuts are all good examples, so you really can eat your way to happiness.
Sometimes, all you need is a treat. ‘Eating a square of chocolate a day can relieve emotional stress, thanks to antioxidants called flavonols,’ says Lily. But before you binge on a bag of white chocolate buttons, you should know that dark (70% cocoa or higher) chocolate is best.
Whether you pop to the gym or just walk the dog, exercise is one of the best, and most underused, natural antidepressants. ‘Exercise releases serotonin and endorphins that instantly lift your mood,’ says Lily. ‘Plus, if you exercise outdoors in the light, you get a double effect – and literally sweat it out.’
And then there are the little things you can do…
Have a laugh
Giggling is one of the best remedies for a low mood as it triggers healthy changes in our bodies. ‘It boosts our energy, decreases stress and improves immunity,’ says women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville. ‘It also triggers the release of endorphins that make us feel happier and relaxed.’ What better excuse to re-watch your favourite Friends episode?
Read more: How to laugh yourself happy
Make a list
Stressing? Write a to-do list. Prioritise tasks that need to be tackled first and learn to say no if you’ve taken on too much. Practising assertiveness will make you feel empowered and in control of your day.
Turn it up
Music can have an uplifting effect on your mood. While listening to upbeat music or happy songs will certainly turn your frown upside down, so will listening to your favourite song – even if it’s a sad one. So when you’re feeling down, pop on your favourite playlist and sing along… we’re sure no one’s listening.