I know how easy the seasonal shift, from light and endless days to short and dark, can have on your mentality and energy level. I’ve been battling seasonal depression every winter for years. But for the last two, I’ve noticed a profound change since adding these three little things to my lifestyle. This is currently my third-year being depression-free, and I haven’t even thought about how the sun never rises! Treating depression is often a personal journey, and as a result, each person must develop unique ways of coping with the symptoms.
So what did I do?
#1 Get Your Sunshine From The Inside
Anyone living beyond Lisbon should consider taking a vitamin D supplement. During the months October-March, the sun lays too low for us to absorb any vitamin D properly. We don’t help it either by covering ourselves up with more clothes, but a t-shirt and shorts aren’t really an option if you live in a climate where degrees won’t go higher than 5°C, not even on a sunny winters day.
The hard truth is that many of us don’t even get enough vitamin D during the summer months. It can mainly be because we nowadays wear sunscreen on a daily basis which hinders the absorption of vitamin D, but it could also be that we stay inside more because of electronics or fear of the sun. Vitamin D storages lasts about 30 to 60 days. But if you didn’t get enough during the summer your storage will become depleted fast.
There are not enough studies done to tell you exactly if, why, and how vitamin D affects mood and energy. But it’s the one nutrient that supports several different things in the body: optimal blood levels, bone health, immune system regulation and maintaining a healthy body weight – and not to mention my recent post on how to cure menstrual pains. People can’t argue that the sun makes them feel good and that the least stressed people live in sunny places.
To be honest with you, I’m not the one for taking supplements over getting your nutrients from real food. But this one made such a huge impact that I can’t argue about not taking it.
Why I don’t recommend getting your daily vitamin D dose from foods such as fish, which offers the highest dosage from a food source, is because from my own observations and experience of eating a diet heavy of fish. I used to eat salmon and other fish 3-5 days a week, and looking at my history of depression, it didn’t have any profound effect on my winter blues as when eating a plant-based high carbohydrate diet and supplementing with vitamin D. The other reason is that fish nowadays are highly toxic, containing mercury which has been linked to depression. And you might think eggs are a good source, but to supplement with eggs, you’d have to eat at least 35 eggs a day and not to mention they contain unnecessary cholesterol. And fortified products don’t contain enough to make a difference.
If you don’t have the option to take a month’s break someplace sunny during winter, then consider doing one or two of these things to improve your vitamin D levels:
- Take a supplement – I recommend VitaShine which is the only vegan D3 option available.
- Laying once a week in a tanning bed – 10-15 minutes.
- Invest in a sun-lamp – There are two types, usually, the ones able to produce vitamin D are quite expensive though.
#2 Turn To Uplifting Carbs
Carbohydrates have a direct connection to serotonin levels, therefore eating a high carb diet can have a great effect on boosting your mood. When you eat carbohydrates, insulin is released that drives tryptophan into your brain where it gets converted to the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. This process works undisturbed as long as you keep the amount of fat low; increase the amount of fat and you will experience quick highs and lows which is a number one mood-killer. Studies show that those who are prone to a low mood or bipolar disorder may benefit from avoiding high-fat diets and instead load up on the carbs.
Of course, I’m talking about getting your carbohydrates from a plant-based, whole foods source. Many plants, like leafy greens, bananas, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds are high in magnesium. When it comes to depression, anxiety, apathy, insecurity and irritability, magnesium deficiency has been showed to be a large contributor. Stress is also a culprit as it depletes us of important minerals like magnesium and zinc, worsen our digestion and our ability to absorb nutrients.
My past diets have been a mix of high protein, LCHF and average junk and processed foods, depending on where I’ve been in my life. Anxiety attacks and insomnia have also been huge problems for me, but when I started basing my diet off of fruit, greens, and cooked starches, I instantly felt like I could handle stress and anxiety much better than ever before! My sleep improved and my tendency to depression suddenly got smaller because I stopped worrying and thinking too much.
It’s a wonder what carbs and magnesium-rich foods may do to your mood!
#3 Stay Active
We are made to move out bodies, and countless of studies have shown that exercise is better than taking anti-depressants. Exercise releases endorphins, which lowers stress and makes us have an overall positive outlook on life. The winter makes us more tired with its short days, and it’s easy to choose not to do any exercise at all during this period. Still, you should try to squeeze in some additional movement than the usual walk to your job and back. It will improve both your waistline and mood!
Contrary to old belief, exercise does not make you more tired, it actually boosts your energy levels! Studies have shown us that once you actually start moving, the more you will want to move. To meet the demand of working out, our body contains tiny organs in our cells called mitochondria, which works like tiny power plants to produce the energy we need. You can have high and low levels of mitochondria, it all depends on your daily activity level. The more aerobic exercise you do, the more mitochondria the body makes to produce the energy to meet your needs, this is why regular cardiovascular exercise actually creates more available energy.
What kind of exercise boosts your mood and energy levels?
According to research, only 15-30 minutes a day of any light to moderate exercise will do!
Though I have found that high-intensity intervals of 25 minutes including some strength training are the best, what’s most important is that you find something that you enjoy. In winter we tend to go inwards for more grounding exercises, so keeping it light with yoga or walks will still greatly benefit you!
What are some of your best tips on fighting the darkness?
Share them down below!