December hopefully brings days of joy, cheer, and gratitude with gatherings of family and friends. But here in the Pacific NW, we also have short days and long nights with a lot of grey skies and liquid sunshine mixed in for good measure. The rain is a critical part of creating the beauty of our state but can also trigger the blues in the most upbeat individuals. Here are a few tips to help move through this season with more ease.
Take your vitamins, eat your vitamins!
Some basics to prioritize are zinc, magnesium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D. You might recognize these for their ability to help make the immune system strong but they also play important roles in our energy and mental health via the production of serotonin. Serotonin is one of our primary feel-good neurotransmitters and tends to drop lower in the winter months. Fun fact- we often crave “fast” carbs (think bread, pasta, chips, cookies) when our serotonin levels are lower than normal. While this might help raise our serotonin levels briefly, it’s only a very short-term fix that doesn’t help in the long run.
Magnesium and Vitamin D are best taken as supplements in order to get adequate amounts due to poor availability from food and in the case of Vitamin D, less sun and our latitude in Oregon. But if you’re craving a little something sweet, go for some dark chocolate- along with being a great source of antioxidants, it’s also a reasonable source of magnesium! Some great food sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds as well as legumes, eggs, and red meat. There are lots of foods high in Vitamin C including the obvious citrus but also peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes. Added bonus- eating lots of vegetables will keep your gut happy and a happy gut = a happy mind since 80% of our serotonin is produced in the GI tract!
Work on embracing this Danish concept that includes creating warmth and coziness in our homes even on the darkest of days. You can do this through light- via candles, lamps, or even twinkle lights. Come home and get into your comfiest clothing, have a warm drink, and snuggle in for the night. It’s also about being present- getting off our phones, staying connected with others, and finding gratitude in the everyday.
Bring on the Light!
Using a light therapy box can be helpful for improving your mood as well as increasing sleep quality (via melatonin production) and boosting energy. A light box should be used first thing in the morning for 15-20 minutes with the ideal strength of 10,000 lux. Always talk to your doctor before starting- it can be contraindicated for those with bipolar disease and/or eye health issues.
Move your body!
One of the best natural anti-depressants is to move your body. Exercise helps increase serotonin along with endorphins and another brain chemical called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that helps brain nerve fibers grow and form new connections. When it comes to exercise, a little goes a long way- the important part is to stay consistent. A 10-minute daily walk outside = 70 minutes by the end of the week. Try an exercise class, a walk, or a dance party in your kitchen!
Taking care of your mental health is critical so don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you need more support. I hope this helps increase the brightness in your days and remember the days will be longer again before we know it!