Beating the Winter Blues

Most of us are familiar with signs of winter: A fresh blanket of snow lays on the ground, a bitter chill hangs in the air, and warm clothing comes out of storage. One might curl up on the couch to watch a movie with a warm cup of hot chocolate and a comfortable blanket. For a few months, the world appears almost frozen in time, and as the holidays roll around, people are sparked with the joys of giving and the warmth of family.

Although winter is a beautiful time of year, it can also be the most difficult. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Risk factors include living a far distance from the equator, having a diagnosis of depression, and having a family history of SAD. Starting in late fall and lasting until spring, those impacted with SAD may experience low energy, increased sleep, overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal.

I often say that I turn into a different person in the wintertime. My mood can be compared to that of a grizzly bear, I want to sleep all the time, and my thought patterns become incredibly negative. This year, I wanted to make a change and attempt to view winter more positively. Although I realized that challenging negative thought patterns is helpful, I quickly realized that I would need to do more to cope with my winter SADs (….. get it?).

Here are 3 helpful tips:

Go Towards the Light

Lack of exposure to light is one of the obvious causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. During cold weather, most of us find ourselves staying indoors to keep warm. However, it may be important to bundle up, brave the cold, and bask in the sunlight as it presents. On days that the sun doesn’t shine, one can take advantage of light therapy, or phototherapy. This involves utilizing a light box, which is a lamp that shines artificial sunlight. You can find a list of great options for light boxes by clicking here.

Stock up on Vitamin D

Less sunlight means that there is an insufficient amount of vitamin D being produced in our bodies. It is important to incorporate foods that are rich in vitamin D into our diets to create more dietary balance. So dive into the snack closet, but make sure your snack closet is full of goodies that will help boost vitamin D. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include, fish, eggs, mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables.

Stay Active

I find this to be the most difficult task during the winter. I love exercising outside, but it is almost impossible for me to dig up enough motivation to throw myself into the cold whips of winter. So in my attempt to remain active throughout the chilly months, I have found myself doing a lot of yoga indoors. I love yoga for its gentleness and mindfulness, which I definitely need more of during the winter, and I also find that it is a fantastic strength workout!

Okay, Wellness Warriors, this is where we all come together and collaborate within our community!! What do you do to cope with winter blues?

Strengthening Serotonin Naturally

In April 2019, I began a daily dose of Prozac to assist in managing depression. A small, 20mg white pill played a big role in helping me function again. I found that my depressive symptoms eased enough for me to start taking better care of myself, and as I started feeling better, my passion for health and wellness grew tremendously (obviously… I mean, have you read this blog??).

I practiced being aware of what I am put in my body and how it makes me feel, and I soon noticed that if I ate healthier and remained more active, I felt minimal depression. It sparked a curiosity: If eating healthier can improve my mood in general, can certain foods help depression in general? And so, the research began.

Almost as soon as I started taking Prozac, I began wondering when I would be okay to stop taking it. As a disclosure, I do not believe that taking medication is wrong or bad; Hell, Prozac pretty much saved my life. I do, however, have a strong preference for utilizing more natural remedies when I can. While I am aware that some individuals may require long-term medication management, I always want to provide myself with opportunities to explore alternatives.

Food does not contain serotonin, meaning one cannot get serotonin directly from food. However, there is an amino acid that is converted into serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is typically found in foods that are high in protein, such as turkey or salmon. Foods that are rich in tryptophan are:

  • chicken
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • milk
  • turkey
  • tofu
  • soy
  • chocolate
  • pineapple
  • plums

Foods that are rich in tryptophan may contain other amino acids that are more likely to pass the blood-brain barrier (picture the blood-brain barrier as a really selective security guard – it protects the brain against anything that may cause harm to neurological function). Combining foods rich in tryptophan with carbohydrates can increase the likelihood that tryptophan will pass the blood-brain barrier and be converted to serotonin by the brain.

If you are like me, you may be a chronic snacker, which is actually a great thing if you’re looking for some healthy snacks that can boost serotonin levels. Some ideas include:

  • whole-wheat bread with turkey or cheese
  • oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • salmon with brown rice
  • plums or pineapple with crackers
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk

While tryptophan has many health benefits, there are a number of unpleasant side effects. Some common side effects include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, sexual dysfunction, or dry mouth. Some more serious side effects may be drowsiness, lightheadedness, blurriness of vision, or muscle weakness. *Please keep in mind that I am NOT a medical professional and simply intend to share what I learn throughout my own health and wellness journey. My writing contains far too many quips and ramblings to ever be taken as medical advice.

101 Coping Skills for Depression

  1. Identify potential triggers
  2. Identify your emotions
  3. Take a walk
  4. Call a friend
  5. Practice deep breathing
  6. Meditate for 5-10 minutes
  7. Draw a cartoon
  8. Write 5 things you love about yourself
  9. Stretch for 10 minutes
  10. Go for a run
  11. Play with a pet
  12. Make a playlist of feel good songs
  13. Listen to your feel good songs
  14. Dance
  15. Paint a representation of your emotions
  16. Make a collage using old magazines
  17. Practice handstands
  18. Do 10 push ups
  19. Go for a bike ride
  20. Clean your apartment
  21. Take a shower
  22. Put on your favorite outfit
  23. Style your hair
  24. Read a book
  25. Take a drive
  26. Take photographs
  27. Stay hydrated
  28. Go window shopping
  29. Socialize with someone
  30. Avoid judging your emotions
  31. Create a simple to do list and complete at least 3 things
  32. Cook a healthy meal
  33. Practice yoga poses
  34. Make jewelry
  35. Look at your rock collection
  36. Paint your nails
  37. Put on a face mask
  38. Play with makeup
  39. Video chat a loved one
  40. Free write in a journal
  41. Let yourself cry
  42. Go somewhere very public
  43. Bake
  44. Drink tea or hot chocolate
  45. Look up recipes
  46. Rearrange your apartment
  47. Watch stand up comedy
  48. Practice positive self talk
  49. Use a stress ball
  50. Make slime
  51. Go for a hike
  52. Sit under a tree and read
  53. Spend time in nature
  54. Sit by a river and listen to the water
  55. Read poetry
  56. Look at art
  57. Put a puzzle together
  58. Water your plants
  59. Write a poem
  60. Play ukulele
  61. Make a list of long term goals
  62. Watch America’s Funniest Home Videos
  63. Identify 10 positive thoughts
  64. Write a gratitude list
  65. Read inspirational quotes
  66. Write a song
  67. Get enough sleep
  68. Use essential oils
  69. Take a bubble bath
  70. Plan an activity
  71. Look outside mindfully
  72. Go outside
  73. Crochet a scarf
  74. Listen to a podcast
  75. Play a board game with a friend
  76. Plan outfits for the week
  77. Sing
  78. Practice visualization
  79. Watch a movie
  80. Meal prep
  81. Challenge any negative thinking
  82. Color a picture
  83. Get a massage
  84. Get your nails done
  85. Make worry stones
  86. Go rock picking
  87. Use progressive muscle relaxation
  88. Engage in problem solving
  89. Watch videos of funny children
  90. Write a letter to yourself
  91. Play a sport
  92. Make extra time for yourself
  93. Use lavender room spray
  94. Identify your strengths
  95. Do a body scan
  96. Look at old pictures
  97. Learn a new craft
  98. Spend time with a family member
  99. Volunteer
  100. Light a candle
  101. Explore somewhere you’ve never been

When The Going Gets Tough

This past week has been a rough one. For the past month or so, I’ve been so wrapped up lately revisiting an ongoing tumultuous relationship that has never been necessarily mentally healthy, and now that it has ended I really need to get myself back on track. At this moment, I feel an overwhelming need to pause, regroup, and focus on myself. I’ve created a list of things that have helped in the past so I can go back to incorporating them into my routine while I get reconnect with myself in a healthier way.

  1. Journal
  2. Self reflect on what I worked on in therapy
  3. Catch myself if I’m thinking too much
  4. Listen to (HAPPY) music
  5. Spend time with friends
  6. Keep my apartment clean, organized, and free of clutter
  7. Stay on top of my exercise routine
  8. Use my time productively
  9. Meditate more consistently
  10. Meal prep to keep the week less stressful
  11. Continue making time on Sundays to plan goals for the week
  12. Focus on facilitating positive interactions with others