Unless you live in a place like Florida, you’re well aware that winter is in full swing. Trees are bare, grass has yellowed, skies are grey and many states have snow. To top it off, flu season has arrived in a premature, vengeful manner.
Even if you’ve eluded physical illness, you may have noticed that you’re feeling a little down. Your energy and motivation levels have declined; your appetite and sleep patterns have changed; it is more difficult to find joy in things that usually make you happy. Maybe you’re just plain irritable.
When inanimate objects, such as your alarm clock, become your mortal enemy, it’s high time to nurture your mental health.
Having the “winter blues”, also known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is quite common. Before allowing it to turn into full-blown depression, consider the following strategies:
- Avoid Processed Food. Nearly every food product with a label containing more than 5 ingredients will be nutrient-deficient and processed with chemicals that your body is simply unable to process. Admittedly, “comfort food” is hard to resist in the winter, but remember that you don’t have to be skinny to be malnourished. Among these depression-feeding ingredients to avoid are white flour, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup (or other sugars), artificial sweeteners, preservatives and MSG. Try to make the majority of your diet consist of whole foods in their natural state. Also bear in mind that alcohol is a depressant.
- Pray or Meditate Twice a Day. Numerous studies have shown that depression levels among those who pray or meditate are far lower than those who don’t. Make it part of your daily routine, just before going to sleep and immediately upon awakening; even if it’s only 5 minutes at a time. If you’re unsure of where to begin, start by counting your blessings. You’ll soon find it to be the most powerful 5 minutes of your day!
- Take a Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) Supplement. Also known as “The Sunshine Vitamin”, but technically a pre-hormone, most Americans are severely deficient in Vitamin D; especially during winter. In addition to promoting healthy teeth, bones, skin and protection against cancer, Vitamin D can greatly enhance your mental health. I personally take 5,000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D3 per day in the winter. Even though my children still play outside in the winter, I give them 500-1,000 I.U.’s. Good food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish (such as wild salmon), and certain mushrooms (such as shitake or portabella).
- Take an Omega-3 Supplement. Over the past few years, mainstream/conventional medicine has finally started to embrace the benefits of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s); another common deficiency. In addition to promoting healthy skin, eyes, heart and immune system, as well as reducing inflammation and blood pressure, a quality Omega-3 supplement from fish, krill, flax or hemp oil can also fight off depression. When you consider the fact that the human brain consists of 60-70% DHA fatty acids, it’s no wonder! Good food sources of Omega-3 EFA’s include pastured eggs, wild salmon, grass-fed beef, and raw almonds and walnuts.
- Exercise. While exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re feeling blue, it should be the first. But it doesn’t mean you have to spring for a personal trainer or grueling boot camp. Gentle yoga or even a walk around the block can do wonders for your mental health. If weather doesn’t permit the walk (with free dose of Vitamin D), vacuum your home, chase your kids around, or find an exercise program on TV. And don’t discount the benefits of simple, basic stretching. Do it while praying or meditating!
- Get Adequate Sleep. Many people feel they require a little more sleep during winter months. Maybe it’s an excuse to enjoy an extra dose of cozy; maybe it’s God’s way of telling us to take a break from our busy lives. Regardless, there’s no disputing the fact that we’re happier and healthier after a good night’s sleep. While easier said than done, here are a few ways to help you get more sleep:
- Treat Underlying Health Problems. While light depression can be easy to treat, severe depression can be debilitating and harder to treat. Before resorting to antidepressants with dangerous side effects, ask your doctor to help you find the root cause of your depression. Underlying health problems, such as Autoimmune Disorders, Hormonal Imbalances and Physical Trauma, as well as certain Prescription Drugs are just a few things that can cause severe depression. In addition to addressing underlying health problems, a naturopathic doctor might even recommend an herb like Ginkgo Biloba; the amino acid 5HTP; or light therapy to alleviate depression.
Above all, be good to yourself and don’t allow the winter blues to turn into a deep, dark depression. Per Ralph Waldo Emerson: The First Wealth is Health. I think that applies just as much to mental health as it does physical health.