The holidays are over, the fervor of the New Year passed and the excitement of new resolutions has dwindled. It may seem as though all that is left are more cold days, more snow and a longing for the sunny days of summer. We may not realize it, but our moods are tied to the seasons. While spring may be just two months away, for many the mid-winter blues have set in.
Winter is a yin-dominant time of inward movement. It is a time for introspection and a time to plant seeds for future growth. When seen from this perspective, winter takes on a positive light as a season during which all the potential that can be, replenishes itself. For each of us, this means embracing this season of introspection.
Beat the winter blues with these timely tips
1. Start with your gut: A diet rich in phytonutrients (plant foods) and essential fatty acids (the omega-3′s) will give your brain the necessary nutrients and antioxidants it needs to carry out essential daily functions. The cold weather may have lured you into eating more comfort foods, with fewer nutrients.
Give your body what it needs, avoid pesticides and buy organic whenever possible and your body will heal itself. Interestingly, there are more serotonin (neurotransmitter of “happiness”) receptors in your intestines than in your brain. Eat a nutrient- dense, organic diet, and your mood will improve. If you have food sensitivities, as many people do, eliminating these with the guidance of a healthcare practitioner will result in more energy and an uplifted mood.
2. Avoid excessive sugar: Sure, we discussed your gut, but sugar is a special circumstance. The average American consumes close to their body weight in sugar (about 130 lbs) every year.1 We all know how indulging in sugar-rich foods, such as cookies, brownies, candies and flavored drinks, can give you a rush of energy. However, the crash that follows can leave you feeling moody, weak and longing for more sugar. Ultimately the insulin/sugar cycle of ups and downs deprives you of energy and the crash results in a low mood. Instead, reach for a piece of fruit or dark chocolate to satisfy that sugar craving.
3. Take your Vitamin D: Vitamin D is like a little bit of sunshine in a pill. I’ve spoken extensively about the benefits of vitamin D. One of the causes of seasonal affective disorder is a lack of sunlight, which results in a low level of vitamin D.2 Recent research suggests that taking supplemental vitamin D during the winter months may help prevent seasonal depression.3 4
4. Exercise: Don’t limit yourself to thinking that exercise means being a gym rat on a treadmill. Shake it up! Take a belly-dancing class or try hot yoga. How about Salsa Aerobics? Make it fun, break a sweat and get those feel-good body signals called endorphins flowing. We simply don’t move enough, so get out of your blue mind and into your moving body. Shake, wiggle, waggle, jump and bend your way to a renewed happy self.5
5. Meditate: The power of meditation to produce positive feelings has been proven in research studies.6 7 8 Winter is the perfect time to start a meditation practice and that is why I decided to join the Chopra Center 21-day Meditation Challenge on January 24th. Spending time with the stillness within, free of thought and ego allows for true healing to occur. The simplest form of meditation is to sit quietly and comfortably and focus attention on your breath. Spend 10 to 20 minutes each day doing this, and you will discover a renewed spirit and zest for life!
Vincent Pedre, M.D. is an Integrative, Holistic General Practitioner and Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City. Follow Dr. Pedre on Facebook.
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1. Sugar and Sweeteners Team, Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, USDA, “Sugars and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables,” accessed at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Sugar/Data.htm, last updated 6/3/2010.
2. Humble MB. Vitamin D, light and mental health. Journal of Photochem Photobiol B. 2010 Nov 3;101(2):142-9.
3. Ganji V, et al. Serum vitamin D concentrations are related to depression in young adult US population: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survery. Int Arch Med. 2010 Nov 11;3:29.
4. Stewart R, Hirani V. Relationship of vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in older residents from a national survey population. Psychosom Med. 2010 Sep; 72(7):608-12.
5. Mead GE, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct; (4):CD004366.
6. Leite JR, et al. Effect of progressive self-focus meditation on attention, anxiety and depression scores. Percept Mot Skills. 2010 Jun;110(3 Pt 1):840-8.
7. Brown D. Mastery of the mind East and West: excellence in being and doing and everyday happiness. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2009 Aug;1172:231-51.
8. Lutz A, et al. Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: effects of meditative expertise. PLoS One. 2008 Mar 26;3(3):e1897.