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.
Is it seasonal affective disorder?
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.
Linden, David J. 2013. It’s Addictive, but Well Worth the Risk. The New York Times.
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