It’s the time of year when wearing layers is still a novelty. The cold crisp air holds the promise of winter, you look up and see a tapestry of gold, red, and orange against a brilliant blue sky background. See you next year! The tree leaves wave as they drop to the ground and the fall says goodbye with a burst of colors. Suddenly, practically overnight, a gust of wind will have blown them all off. The sight of bare branches against the bleak gray sky is enough to make some people want to hibernate, but we are not cave dwellers, so how do you cope with the dreary winter once the whirlwind of holiday festivities wears off?
If you find yourself feeling sad without explanation, there is one; Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter. People who live in places with long winter nights are at a greater risk of SAD. Typical symptoms of depression apply: pessimism, irritability, excessive sleeping, social withdrawal, sluggishness or inactivity, feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty, loss of energy, and diminished ability to think or concentrate.
You may be less likely to get outdoors and engage in activity. It can be hard if not seem impossible to get yourself to the gym and lack of exercise results in limited endorphin production. If you find yourself stuck in the house, you might be taking more trips to the refrigerator whether it be from boredom, or because your body is lacking in vital nutrients and instinctively your brain responds by signaling you to eat. It may seem like a hopeless cycle that we are bound to until the weather breaks, but one small step to avoid the pitfalls of winter depression can be to build healthy eating habits. It isn’t often advised to use eating as a remedy for coping with feelings, but the right foods can boost your mental state.
As explained by LMSW and psychotherapist, Athea Thomas, the correlation between diet and mental health has to do with cognative behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is the process of identifying thoughts and changing the negative to positive. “The way you eat is a behavior, eating healthy can make a person feel healthier which can in turn affect the way a person thinks, which can ultimately affect the way they behave,” she says. Simply put, developing good eating habits will make you feel better about yourself because you will actually feel better.
As difficult as it is to stick to a diet, especially through the holidays, think of it as an eating plan which will allow you to include foods that provide nutrients known for boosting energy. If you get used to buying certain foods and eating a certain way, it doesn’t seem forced or like you are prohibiting yourself. Often it is easier than you think to pair a superfood with an indulgence. How about a bacon and cheddar cheese-burger served over spinach instead of with carbs and fried stuff?
Here are a few key vitamins and nutrients with some food suggestions for your grocery list:
- Omega-3 fats: flax seed oil, fish oil, salmon, walnuts, grass fed beef, halibut, and some eggs are enriched.
- B12: clams, salmon, tuna, lamb, eggs, dairy, and cereals that are fortified with B12.
- Folic acid: blackeyed peas, beef liver, kidney beans, lentils, spinach, kale, peanuts and peanut butter, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, greenbeans, oatmeal and blackberries.
- B6: spinach, brown rice, bananas, avocados, kale, potatoes, cauliflower, walnuts, roasted chicken and turkey breasts.
A case of the winter blues can be just that and easy enough to remedy, however, the possibility of it manifesting into something more serious should not be taken so lightly. If you are haunted by thoughts of death and suicide you may be at risk for developing long-term depression or Bi-polar disorder. Clinical depression requires professional help, not just a healthy diet. For someone struggling with these issues and already taking medication, do not put yourself on a vitamin supplement routine without consulting your physician.