As temperatures get colder and sunlight becomes scarce, some of us experience more cravings, more fatigue, and just generally feel blue. Women wonder, Is it depression? Is it seasonal affective disorder? What’s wrong with me? There are certainly psychological aspects to the winter blues. Yet we’ve found that there are also some very real physical contributors to feeling low in the wintertime that are sometimes easy to tackle first.
Of course if you feel there is something really wrong, it’s always best to talk things over with your doctor. But you might try these tips prior to labeling yourself with seasonal affective disorder or seeking out antidepressants.
1. Supplement with vitamin D. Research shows that adequate vitamin D levels can improve mood during the winter months. We recommend getting your vitamin D levels tested and supplementing as necessary. Even with all the talk about vitamin D these days, many people are still low. The optimal range, according to Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD, nutritionist and bone health expert, is 50-70 ng/mL. For healthy women who haven’t been tested, we recommend supplementing with 2000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, especially through the fall and winter months.
Carbohydrate cravings, little interest in social activities, sleepiness, irritability, and weight gain are all common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But these symptoms are often cyclical in nature, showing up as the days grow shorter in the late fall and lifting as daylight increases in the spring and summer.
For more information, read our article on seasonal affective disorder.
2. Exercise outdoors. Getting outside is so important in the winter months. We need fresh air and whatever sunlight we can get. According to a 2011 review of the literature, moving your body outdoors has been associated with “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy.” Dr. David J. Linden, professor of neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, writes that exercise is also “…an excellent antidepressant and anxiety reducer…” So make a plan to get outside every day, even if it’s for a short walk around the block.
3. Embrace “winter” nutrition. We tend to reach for comfort foods at this time of year, especially around the holidays, which means heavy pasta dishes, cheese, and sugary treats. Eating a salad in December just doesn’t feel right! And this instinct is in line with Ayurvedic wisdom, which tells us that our bodies and minds feel best if we change our eating habits according to the seasons. As winter comes, our digestive fires aren’t as strong, which means slow cooked stews, soups, and warm meals are more nourishing and grounding. In the summer and spring months, our digestive fires are stronger and can manage raw vegetables and cool foods eaten on the go. So stay with comfort foods, but instead of Mac n’ cheese, white bread, and white potatoes, find recipes that include healthy protein, root vegetables and wild rice. Cutting back on simple carbs will help with cravings, fatigue, and mood swings.
4. Check your hormones. The feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin is affected by light. So it’s no surprise that serotonin is typically lowest during the months of December and January. So how does this disrupt your hormones? With low serotonin, your body sends out cravings for carbohydrates (which help in the process of serotonin production). High carb diets lead to rapid spikes and drops in insulin, one of our major hormones. Once this major hormone is disrupted, other hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can become imbalanced, making fatigue, cravings and mood disturbances even worse. If you are in perimenopause, we recommend using herbal support to balance your hormones. Our product Herbal Equilibrium has helped thousands of women. You might also consider supplementing with 5-HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid that can help support the systems responsible for mood and appetite.
5. Plan a vacation. Okay, we admit this isn’t exactly a “physical” fix for the winter blues, but the planning, build-up and time away makes for a great way to break up the winter doldrums. It would be great to take a vacation someplace warm and sunny, but if you don’t have a lot of money, you can simply plan a weekend visit to a friend or family member’s home. You might consider attending a yoga retreat, writing retreat or other creative endeavor. Simply making a plan and taking a short break from your daily routine can do wonders to restore and rejuvenate you!
Make this holiday season and winter your best yet by taking care of your whole body! We offer high-quality herbal supplements and cost-saving Health Packages to help your body rebalance itself. And with Women’s Health Network, we have Nurse-Educators and Wellness Coaches available to talk with when you need help. Feeling happy and healthy is about educating yourself and taking action. We’re here to help!
Vieth, R, et al. 2004. Randomized comparison of the effects of the vitamin D3 adequate intake versus 100 mcg (4000 IU) per day on biochemical responses and the wellbeing of patients. Nutrition Journal, 3(8). URL: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/3/1/8.
Lansdowne, AT and SC Provost. 1998. Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter. Psychopharmacology, 135(4), 319-323. URL: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s002130050517#.
Coon, JT, et al. 2011. Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environ. Sci. Technol., 45(5), 1761-1772. URL: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es102947t.
Linden, David J. 2013. It’s Addictive, but Well Worth the Risk. The New York Times. URL: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/06/24/addicted-to-endorphins/exercise-can-be-addictive-but-its-well-worth-the-risk.
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