Winter months are a challenging time for many people. Recovering from the stresses of the winter holiday season can prove surprisingly challenging, especially as we experience fewer hours of sunlight and cold dreary weather. Unexplained feelings of worry, sadness, frustration, tension, or apathy are common signs that brain chemistry is not in optimal balance. For many, these feelings are short lived, and resolve once the stress or dark weather pass. For others these feelings are frequent companions and they begin affecting daily functioning. Mood issues that are more serious outlast the situation that may have caused them and are often accompanied by changes in sleep and eating patterns, as well as motivation to participate in daily life. As with any persistent health issue, if struggles with mood are persistent it is a good idea to enlist the help of a health care provider.
There are many potential triggers for negative emotions and a low mood:
1) Situational: there are current life events that are challenging (excessive obligations, work, family or relationship stress). Mood and emotional changes that are due only to situational stress should resolve once the stress has passed.
2) Low neurotransmitters: Regardless of cause, low mood and negative emotions are caused by lower levels of key brain chemicals called neurotransmitters such as: serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine, and our natural endorphins.
3) Sunshine: SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is not as much of a problem in sunny Austin as in other parts of the country, but we do have more dark dreary weather in the winter than any other time of year. The days are also much shorter, and we see less of the sun. Sunshine affects our neurotransmitter levels, especially serotonin.
4) Stress : If cortisol, our natural stress hormone, is high all the time it causes us to use up our other calming neurotransmitters leading to “neurotransmitter burnout”.
5) Fatigue: it is hard to feel hopeful when you are too tired to think straight or do anything fun.
6) Food: Putting the wrong fuel in the tank. Our neurotransmitters are made from amino acids which are from protein. The process of making neurotransmitters also uses nutrients such as B-vitamins (B 6, B12) and minerals (magnesium is a major player). The brain and nerves are made mostly of fats, so having lots of healthy fats in the diet also helps with healthy brain function. A diet high in starch, sugars and unhealthy fats makes it very hard to keep up with neurotransmitter production.
7) Gut inflammation: Serotonin, one of our major mood stabilizers, is actually made in the intestines! Consuming foods that cause inflammation (usually experienced as bloating, constipation or IBS like symptoms) makes a big dent in serotonin production. Unhappy intestines always make for an unhappy brain!
4 simple things you can do to lift that blue mood:
1) Sleep is the #1 best cure for stress. Get 8 hours minimum, and go to bed early. If you have been running on little sleep, get some extra sleep to work off that sleep debt. Every hour you sleep before midnight, counts for two hours after midnight.
2) Exercise combined with fresh air and sunshine. Get out during daylight hours and take a brisk walk somewhere beautiful. Do some yoga, stretch, breathe. You will release endorphins and make more serotonin.
3) Eat a diet rich in clean protein, organic veggies and healthy fats. Avoid foods that cause inflammation (dairy, gluten, refined sugar). This will optimize production of serotonin and other key neurotransmitters by giving you the raw materials your body needs to make them.
4) Re-Frame, get a new perspective, View Askew. Look at the situations that have you down, and think about them in a new way. Put them in the perspective of the long term and the global picture of your life as well as life on the planet. Find a way to turn challenges into opportunities. Be flexible and creative. Give yourself permission to handle things differently than you usually do.
Supplements to Support mood:
· Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics: to reduce circulating levels of stress hormone
· Adrenal Health by Gaia: Herbs that improve both physical and mental stamina as well as help your adrenals recover from stress.
· B-complex by Integrative Therapeutics: Our bodies use more B vitamins during times of stress, B vitamins also play an integral role in making neurotransmitters in our bodies.
· 5HTP by Thorne Research: This is the foundational building block of serotonin. 50-100 mg at night is the standard dose.
· DLPA (chocolate): D, L, Phenylalanine is the foundational molecule to making many of our “pleasure” neurotransmitters, as well as our endorphins. Cacao is a naturally rich source of DLPA as well as theobromine which also makes us feel good. Enjoy some organic 70% dark chocolate!
· Cod Liver Oil by Pharmax or Nordic Naturals: Rich in essential fatty acids EPA and DHA as well as being a natural source of vitamins D and A, Cod Liver Oil is a naturally occurring mood support. In the Pacific Northwest they call it the “winter mood elixir.”
· Lavela by Integrative Therapeutics: this is a gentle but powerful support for occasional anxiety. One in the morning helps to relieve feelings of anxiety.
· St. John’s Wort: 200mg per day can be a great mood leveler. It does impact the metabolism of many drugs, so ask a practitioner for guidance if you are on other prescription medications.
· Decompress and Quiet Mind by Herbalogic: Calming Chinese herbal support for stressful times.
by Becky Andrews ND, MSA