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For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced spring fever. What I didn’t recognize until the last few years, however, is that I also suffer with her ugly sister, winter blues.
I strongly dislike winter here. In Georgia, there is no snow to make things fun and pretty (and I realize snow isn’t always fun for those of you who get hammered with it!), the winters are just blah, gray, and rainy.
Since walking outside, and otherwise spending time outdoors is one of the most important ways I boost my mood, that’s a real bummer.
So I’ve developed an arsenal of natural treatments that help.
Natural Treatments for Winter Blues
1) Spending Time Outside
Being perfectly honest here, I really have to force myself to do this come winter! Thankfully, my kids love to be outdoors even when it’s cold. They’re a great example for me, and there’s always someone who will take a walk or bike ride with me. Spending time outside is important all the time, but in the winter, it’s easy to get deficient in Vitamin D from the sunlight deprivation. Both Vitamin D deficiency and darkness are associated with low mood.
2) Fermented Cod Liver Oil for Vitamin D
I have recently begun taking my FCLO again after a long hiatus. It’s a wonderful source of Vitamin D in an easily assimilated form (I’m very wary of supplements that aren’t food). I use Green Pastures brand that also contains high vitamin butter oil (they work best together). Yes, it’s quite pricey. But a bottle lasts me several months so it’s worth it. FCLO isn’t easy to take, but the cinnamon tingle flavor is the least offensive to me, and doesn’t give me fishy burps. The capsules are easier, but cost more overall.
Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett had much to say on the use of fish oils as a treatment for depression in this interview.
Certain aromas or scents have been known to help lift your spirits during the winter blahs. (I always find it interesting that the astrologers who visited the young Jesus brought gold along with… aromatherapy!)
Studies have shown that certain smells actually affect brain wave activity. For example, lavender induces brain waves associated with relaxation.
To help combat the feelings of melancholy associated with winter, try citrus – lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime, and bergamot. Other scents that may help are sage, basil, ylang ylang, ginger and jasmine. Other popular essential oils with uplifting qualities include the mints, particularly peppermint and spearmint.
To get these essential oils into your nose, you can try several methods.
* Massage – Mix 10 drops of your favorite blend or single essential oil with 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of carrier oil, such as sweet almond or castor oil. Rub some of this oil on your temples and apply to your wrists.
* Diffusion – Many health food stores and even mainstream retailers carry electric diffusers. You simply add drops of essential oil according to the instructions. This gets the scent throughout the room. Wonderful if anyone in the house is ill. I used aromatherapy extensively when we had whooping cough. (Another simple way to diffuse essential oils is to simply put a few drops in a spray bottle of water and use around the house. At night, I put a few drops of a relaxing scent on my sheets.)
* Bath – Add a teaspoon or so of your massage oil to your bathwater.
4) Nutritional Treatments For Winter Blues
It’s no surprise that since the weather turned gross, I’ve basically wanted to drown my sorrows in white flour, sugar and butter. Bring on the cupcakes! It turns out my body may be asking for certain nutrients it needs to cope with winter. Physiologically speaking, darkness is stressful. The right food can help us cope.
Nuts and seeds contain important mood-boosting fatty acids.
Poultry – turkey and chicken contain mood-soothing amino acids called L-tryptophan and L-tyrosine. These amino acids help your brain produce serotonin, the “feel good” brain chemical. While high serotonin can cause problems, low serotonin is also a problem. Low serotonin may be an issue in people with winter blues.
Seafood – in addition to supplying essential, healthy fatty acids, some seafood also supplies zinc and Vitamin B12. All three of these nutrients – essential fatty acids, zinc, and B12 – play important roles in mood regulation. Salmon is a good source of B12 and fatty acids; crab, oysters and clams are good sources of B12 and zinc.
Legumes – an important nutrient called folate has a significant effect on certain key neurotransmitters. Some beans and legumes supply this vital nutrient, such as lentils, pinto beans, garbanzos (chickpeas), and black beans
Greens – isn’t it cool that these are in season in wintertime? Many greens are rich in folate, iron, and calcium, which are minerals often lacking in depressed people. Some of the most nutritious greens in this regard are collard greens, turnip greens, spinach and kale.
Whole Grains – as I mentioned earlier, for some of us winter means craving sugar and unhealthy carbs. That may be the body’s way of telling you it does need carbs – but the healthy type. (I’ve noticed that when I’m eating low carb for a while, I develop intense cravings for rice.)
5) Happy Light
When the weather is yucky for several days in a row, I like to pull out my happy light and sit in front of it for a few minutes. Mine is from Verilux, and cost me less than $50.
I exercise outside whenever possible, but if it’s pouring rain or just too cold (for me – a Southern girl!), I do a bodyweight workout inside. It’s nothing complicated, I do a few planks, push-ups, tricep dips, squats and stretches.
How do you cope with winter blues?
(Disclaimer: I’m describing garden variety blahs that occur in winter, not serious depression. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms of major depression, get help right away. This article should not be construed as medical advice.)