Natural mood boosters for the winter blues
While the days are still short and sunshine is scant, our moods can take a bit of a battering as we wait for the arrival of spring. It is not unusual to feel slightly less chirpy in the winter months, but if your symptoms are more severe and are impacting on your daily life, it is worth consulting your GP to rule out Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD manifests itself as a persistent low mood and irritability, losing pleasure in daily activities and feeling especially lethargic. It is actually a form of seasonal depression and is more severe than a mild case of the winter blues. There is no need to suffer in silence: an appointment with your GP should facilitate a proper diagnosis and treatment options. For those with a milder bout of the general winter blues, there are many options to help naturally enhance our moods that we can incorporate into our daily lives.
Head out and about
When you find your mood has slumped, one of the quickest, cheapest and easiest ways of helping to address it is to grab your coat and head outside for a walk. Research has shown that spending time walking in nature lowers our stress and anxiety levels and improves our memory. With the onset of low moods can come an increase in negative thought cycles or rumination, which can itself then exacerbate low moods, creating a vicious cycle. Studies have provided evidence that spending time in nature can help to break these unhealthy thought patterns, with participants who walked in natural surroundings showing an increase in activity in an area of the brain that is associated with depression when deactivated. If the weather really is too miserable to go outside, research has demonstrated that incorporating plants into your workspace can make you more productive and increase your happiness.
Get a move on
The connection between exercising and good mental health is so established that it almost goes without saying. Researchers have found that exercise can have a similar effect to antidepressants when it comes to alleviating depression. Running is particularly effective at promoting good moods, as it triggers the release of endorphins in the brain. Even if you’re totally new to exercising regularly, there are many ways to get started efficiently and head on your way to better physical and mental health. Socialising is another mood booster, so enlisting a running partner or joining a fitness class can help set you well on your way to a cheerier disposition.
Mood enhancing herbs
Herbal supplements may provide the boost you need to raise your spirits. With the low moods that a long, dark winter can bring, anxiety levels can become elevated. Yarrow, a beautiful, delicate white flower acts as a mild sedative, which could help to counteract the sleepless nights brought on by higher levels of anxiety. It is also thought to contain anti-inflammatory compounds, which could help to alleviate nasty cold symptoms. Waking up in the dark can lead to a tired feeling that can last for hours, when you should be feeling refreshed after a good sleep. When an afternoon slump hits shortly after you’ve recovered from a sluggish morning, it can be difficult to remain alert and engaged. Lemon balm has been reported to improve memory and cognition, as well as alleviating anxiety. It makes a delicious tea when added to water in the same way as fresh mint.
Certain fragrances have long been renowned for their mood-altering properties, as odour processing shares common brain functions with emotion. Certain smells can evoke memories almost instantaneously, bringing an associated emotional response with them. This is why we have such personal responses to certain fragrances that can trigger unpleasant or very happy memories. If you’re stuck inside on a particularly miserable day, there are many essential oils with fresh, uplifting scents which may help to lift your mood with their warm, summery associations. Mandarin essential oil has an especially cheering aroma which may be the natural mood enhancer you need to help bring you out of a gloomy winter slump. Lemon essential oil is another uplifting fragrance with its refreshing, sunny qualities.
Lighten up with a daylight alarm clock
One of the greatest struggles of winter is dragging yourself out of bed when it is not only chilly outside, but also pitch black in the morning. A great way to gently ease yourself awake when you can’t rely on a warm stream of sunshine through your bedroom window is with a daylight alarm clock. Whereas a standard alarm clock jolts you suddenly out of a deep sleep with an uncomfortable surge of adrenaline, a daylight alarm clock imitates dawn in becoming gradually brighter which triggers a gradual release of cortisol and serotonin to wake you up gently. There are so many daylight alarms to choose from. One of the most accessible introductory alarm clocks is the Lumie Starter 30 lamp which gradually brightens over half an hour and has a reverse setting to simulate sunset in the evening. Alternatively, the Philips Wake-Up Light alarm clock is currently the only daylight alarm that is clinically proven to help beat the winter blues by waking you up feeling more energised and with an improved mood. For those who are still apprehensive about abandoning their morning alarms, the Wake-Up light also has a built in FM radio or birdsong recordings to ease you awake.
Often, when we’re feeling a little low, the first thing we want to seek comfort in is a bar of chocolate, so you’ll be pleased to hear that there is a scientific reason that chocolate can make us happy. Chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine which causes our brains to release endorphins, which may make us happier when we eat it and reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Stick to a chocolate with a minimum of 70 per cent cocoa solids, and, with all its added benefits, you can’t go far wrong! Having low levels of selenium and omega 3 can lead to low mood states, yet these can be supplemented in your diet with omega 3 rich foods such as an oily fish like salmon, and selenium packed Brazil nuts (just one nut contains a third of a woman’s RDA of selenium.)
Low mood can sometimes be linked to a vitamin D deficiency, which also causes fatigue, bone pain and back pain. If you are concerned that you may have a deficiency, speak to your GP who can officially diagnose it with a blood test. From April-September in the UK we can usually get a sufficient supply of vitamin D from exposing our skin to sunlight. During the winter months, however, the sunlight does not contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to produce sufficient vitamin D, so you may need a supplement to help enhance your mood and wellbeing. Oily fish, red meat, and eggs also help to provide our bodies with vitamin D and taking a supplement may provide the boost you need.
With a more positive outlook, the dark days and winter blues will fly by, and before you know it spring will have arrived, bringing with it sunnier weather and longer days to be enjoyed.
- Chocolate really can bring us happiness through causing our brains to release endorphins. Stick to a dark chocolate with over 70 per cent cocoa solids to reap the benefits.
- Working in a plant filled office space can increase your productivity and happiness.
- Daylight alarm clocks help to simulate sunrise during the darker winter months, waking you up more gently and naturally to start the day in a sunny mood.