With the clocks going back on Sunday 27th October there’s not much we can do about the changing weather and long, dark nights. But we can fight back against seasonal mood slumps. Light plays a huge role in our moods and daily rhythms and this is where the two chemicals in our brains really come in- Serotonin and Melatonin.
the science part…
“When night falls our bodies react to the lack of natural light entering through our eyes and the pineal gland in our brain produces a chemical called Melatonin. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy and lethargic and prepares us for going to sleep for the night. In the morning bright daylight entering our eyes signals to the gland to stop producing melatonin which helps to wake us up and make us feel refreshed. At the same time, the light boosts production of the chemical Serotonin which is our ‘feel good’ hormone.” http://www.blurtitout.org.
This is why when the darker nights arrive the that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of melatonin and serotonin and the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm)
As someone that is affected by the lack of light – I believe that I should have been born as a hibernating creature – I really understand the need for looking after ourselves in the autumn and winter months
So here are my top tips for helping us to feel better in the darker months…
Practice positive thoughts
Positive thoughts release endorphins and a positive attitude improves these brain chemicals. So my first recommendation is to treat a positive attitude as an asset and work on it- starting with some self-care. Pamper yourself with a massage, sit down with a box set or even learn relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or meditation, this will all have a positive effect on your mind.
Try and avoid isolation
This time of year I just want to crawl into bed and avoiding human contact. That’s one of the worst things you can do for your health. When you’re in this mood it is easy just to get into a habit of isolating yourself, and that exacerbates the winter blues. Keep talking and keep in touch with those important to you, even if it is just through a text!
There is no “superfood” that will cure a mood slump and winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and my favourite bread- but this can actually leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Plus they can lead you to gain weight which can lead to feelings of frustration and depression.
Committing to a healthy eating pattern will make a difference. There are individual foods that might be especially good for our brain chemicals like foods with antioxidants in like blueberries, kale and pomegranates. So don’t forget to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
It is a fact that our mood is lifted by getting more sunshine and natural light. Try and spend some time outside every day. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out but by exposing yourself to natural light you will naturally boost your Serotonin levels which will have a big effect on your mood.
In people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD basically the most intense variety of winter-blues) doctors often prescribe ‘light therapy’ where you sit in front of specialised lights that mimic natural sunlight. I have used one of these and I can recommend them although nothing beats real sunlight, even if it is just for 10 minutes.
This one is obvious as exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. It is proven that exercise 3 times a week is effective against depression too. And the bonus is that If you have a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder, outdoor exercise will have a double benefit, because you’ll gain some daylight and vitamin D too.
As a counsellor this time of year brings a steady stream of clients both young and old who present with symptoms of depression, which include low mood, anxiety. So if you’re one of the many people who recognise that your mood and wellbeing can take a nosedive over the darker months ahead, please do take comfort in knowing you are not alone, help is available.