How to BOOST your mood when it's cold and dreary out!
Once November hits, things start to change for us folks in the North (Canada - not talking Game of Thrones today). I have NEVER been the biggest fan of winter. The days grow shorter, darker and colder; not exactly my cup of tea.
I do love watching the seasons change though, I always have. There is something very refreshing about the change - almost magical. In October I spent a weekend at a yoga retreat in the Georgian Bluffs area. The leaves were turning colour and I just remember walking through canopies of fiery red, orange and yellow leaves. You could feel that crispness in the air. Winter was on it's way. There was a kind of silence beginning to take over - the kind of silence you only find present in the winter months. I love this time of the year.
Once winter takes over we can see days without sunlight. Some days are so cold that you can barely catch your breath. Our record low temperature in 2018 so far is -23C. I only live in Toronto by the way, not the Arctic.
The winter of 2017 was probably one of the hardest for me. In November and January we experienced some of the darkest months, where the sun didn't show
it's face for days and days.
At this time I was dealing with the recent loss of my father. I think I was in a state of shock still and trying to figure out the whole grieving process. I felt like I was in a very dark place and sometimes I wasn't sure if I was going to feel normal again.
Then one day in November I was at the local coffee shop and I decided to head home. I felt that something was off. I could feel death in the air. It was extremely creepy - that same feeling I had when I knew that my dad had passed away at the hospital. As I walked a few steps ahead I could see a body in a body bag on the sidewalk just outside my building. I immediately knew that someone had jumped. I felt all the feelings, emotions and memories of my father's death wash over me. I went home and just broke into tears. I felt pain, anger and sadness for my father but also for that young man (I found out through our local Facebook page that this was in fact the situation). That young man decided to end his life that day. I don't know his story, but I can imagine that he was in deep pain.
It took me a few weeks to stop thinking about that young man and my dad dying in the hospital. I had a resurgence of memories and images that almost felt like they were haunting me. The whole winter was very difficult. I attended restorative yoga classes and that helped substantially, but I still had a lot to get through, accept and heal from. This is really one of the first times that I have fully opened up about this.
The problem with winter is that everything feels very dark, and well, dead. There's a lack of colour, the plants aren't vibrant green, the sun only shows its face on ridiculously cold days and even much of the wildlife goes away to hibernate. In the spring and summer there is SO much life! So much vitality to take in. With the characteristics of winter, many of us find our health affected or we may be experiencing some issues but don't necessarily realize that it has a lot to do with the season.
After the hardest winter of my life so far I vowed to make the next one very different. I wanted to be in a different place, I wanted to allow positive changes to happen, and I wanted to take better control of my physical and mental health.
In Canada it's been found that 3% of the population is affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (1) and 80% of those affected are FEMALE (2).
Many people experience some form of seasonal mood change. It could show up as the winter blues, lethargy, oversleeping, increased appetite for sugary foods, or even weight gain. If you see a few of these symptoms, that's when it may be SAD.
There are a few things that you can do to boost your mood this winter. These are now apart of my life and some apart of my daily rituals. Now that I have committed to doing them, I have seen a positive change. I still have some off days, when I don't necessarily feel like myself.
My goal in the very near future, is to spend winters away in a warm sunny climate to keep the happy vibes running high, but until then I do all of these things to boost my mood:
Here are some mood boosting tips!
Foods to LIMIT
(yup, the foods you keep hearing about strike again!)
- SUGAR - It'll give you that satisfaction for a few minutes, but soon enough that will wear off. Sugar (mainly talking about refined/processed sugars) will mess with your mood, plain and simple.
- CAFFEINE - Large amounts of caffeine and reliance on coffee to get by are problematic and will only make the winter more difficult. Most sources of caffeine take us on an up and down rollercoaster ride of moods and some of us experience anxiety from it (I do!). Coffee also gets in the way of nutrient absorption; so when we are trying to boost nutrients like Vitamin D, magnesium etc...caffeine gets in the way.
- PROCESSED FOODS - Kind of goes hand-in-hand with sugar, but these foods will generally leave you feeling lethargic and sluggish, not energized. Let's also not forget unwanted weight gain and NO beneficial nutrients.
- ALCOHOL - Around the holidays the cocktails are flowing and sometimes we find ourselves drinking everyday. Alcohol is a depressant, so it can alter our mood in a negative way. We may think that after a stressful long day, having a drink or two may help create some sense of relief, but when this becomes a habit it can contribute to mental health challenges. I personally, drink very little nowadays (a glass of vino here and there), because it absolutely alters my mood in a negative way.
- OTHER: DAIRY + GLUTEN as these are inflammatory and if you are sensitive to them, they will create shitty issues for you.
Foods to EAT
- GOOD FATS like Omega 3's - Avocado, fatty fish like wild-caught salmon (also contains vitamin B12 - important for mental health), flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, raw nuts like walnuts + cashews (also contain serotonin - only eat a small amount), seeds (sesame seeds - boosts brains dopamine levels - try tahini) and healthy oils like coconut, olive, hemp, avocado, ghee.
Good fats are needed for your nervous system and other areas like digestion and blood sugar balance.
- PUMPKIN SEEDS (also a good fat):
- Source of tryptophan which helps our body produce SEROTONIN aka happiness. When we don't have enough serotonin, it can be attributed to mood imbalance, depression, anxiety, appetite problems and sleep issues. Serotonin is made in the GUT* and brain.
- Great source of ZINC; needed for carbohydrate metabolism, immune health, hair, skin, nails and hormone production.
- MAGNESIUM, a mineral that most of us just don't get enough of and when deficient you can have mega mood issues, insomnia, low energy, constipation, headaches, low blood sugar (3).
*Research shows that there is a strong connection between our gut and its microbes and the nervous system (4).
- EGGS (only local, free-range - the chickens need sunlight and time outside to frolic!) - Contains vitamin D, B-vitamins, protein and iron. This nutrient combo is going to provide you with energy and mood boosting benefits.
- MUSHROOMS - These little funguses contain some plant-based vitamin D (pretty much the only plant-based source) and iron that is extremely bioavailable, meaning you can absorb it!
Eat shiitake mushrooms as they contain vitamin B6 - helps with serotonin production. Good B6 levels will help to keep the good feelings running high and reduce stress levels naturally, YAS!! (5)
Mushrooms are ridiculously cool and are starting to show up big time in the medical world!
- PROBIOTIC + PREBIOTIC RICH FOODS - I spoke about how the GUT affects our overall mood, so we better keep it happy. Eating fermented foods will help to put the good bacteria back into our gut. Prebiotics feed the probiotics so they can nourish and flourish..tralala!)
Fermented Foods with probiotics - Kefir, coconut kefir (learn how to make at home here!), kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh (soy), pickles, miso.
Prebiotics (foods with good fibre content generally) - Jerusalem artichoke (not an artichoke), garlic, onion, asparagus, banana, dandelion greens.
- RAW CACAO + DARK CHOCOLATE (70% +) - Okay so this is for all those sugar cravings. Dark chocolate always satisfies my cravings, even just one square...not the whole row...maybe sometimes. Source of magnesium (back to that mineral again) and more iron! I suggest only 70% + and organic, fair-trade cacao. My favourite raw cacao creation is hot raw cacao (we ain't dumping tbsp's of sugar in this by the way), this is relaxing and warming in the winter. Perfect for the evening.
- Vitamin D (here's the one I use)
- Magnesium Citrate Powder - I use at night to relax and sleep better. You can also use if you feel anxious during the day. Keep in mind, that this can really make ya poop! Start with a small amount.
- Probiotic (I use 50 billion) - How much you need may vary based on your current health situation.
- Fish oil (ensure it is filtered and of high quality or you may be consuming toxic heavy metals like mercury - here's the one myself and clients use) - More good fat + vitamin D
Feel Good Activities
- MOVE YOUR BOOTY! Exercise in some way, shape or form. Exercise boosts serotonin levels. Gym, stretch, fitness classes, yoga, running, walking, skiing, snowboarding, skating.
- GET OUTSIDE! Okay yes when its -23 C, going outside isn't the most desirable option. However, when there is some sun try for even just 5 min! Grab a hot bevy and do a little lap around your house or something. I do this all the time in the winter. If the weather is a bit more desirable, bundle up and head somewhere outside of the city to reconnect.
- HEAD SOMEWHERE SUNNY & WARM, if you can. Go chase the sun!
- DAILY GRATITUDE - Grab The 5 Minute Journal to help you get started or think of 3 things you are grateful for before you get out of bed in the AM, write em down if you like. This will help you to start thinking in a more positive and happy manner.
- MEDITATE - Sitting or walking, it will help you focus on your breathe and calm your thoughts. This is also a great time to figure out and set intentions. See FREE meditations from Gabby Bernstein.
- LISTEN OR READ uplifting podcasts, books, etc... the self help section is cool okay - One of my favourite books to date You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. A great podcast for some soul work, check out the Soul Wealth Podcast.
- JOURNAL - If your mind is overwhelmed with sh*t; basically you have a squirrel brain, get writing. Write it down. It'll help you to organize your thoughts and get it out of your brain. And maybe it'll lead to a book!
- HANG OUT WITH GOOD VIBE PEOPLE - Surround yourself with people that lift you up and are full of love. These are the people that you can be 100% real, raw and authentic with. When someone radiates vibrant energy, you can take that on and it'll help bring you up and vice versa. Whether this is friends, family, mentors, find those people ♡.
I did a poll on my Instagram account and 50% of you said that your MOOD is affected during the winter months and 54% of you said that you feel unmotivated at this time. Cleary, this is a thing!
I hope you found this blog post helpful and that you'll begin to incorporate some of these tips into your lifestyle. These are all apart of my life during the winter and they are things that have helped me feel happier, healthier and more vibrant. Sometimes just getting started feels like too much, especially when you are feeing blue and tired. I've been here so many times. You do not have to do everything at once, just make little changes as you go and feel into them.
If this could help anyone in your life, please share away ♡.
If you are really struggling and you need someone to talk to, don't be afraid. The more you bottle up, the more it hurts and the worse things tend to feel. Being open and talking about it is when things start to become easier. Find that person or people that can help provide you with the support and good vibes that you need.
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(1) Canada.com. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from
http://bodyandhealth.canada.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/seasonal-affective-disorder. January 23, 3018.
(2) CAMH. Seasonal depression, winter blues and seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/news_releases_media_advisories_and_backgrounders/current_year/Pages/Seasonal-depression,-winter-blues-and-seasonal-affective-disorder--CAMH-expert-available-for-interview-.aspx. January 23, 2018.
(3) One Green Planet. (2017, October 8). The perfect seed: Why everyone should add pumpkin seeds to their diet. Retrieved from http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/why-everyone-should-add-pumpkin-seeds-to-their-diet/. January 24, 2018.
(4) Kristina Campbell. (2017, January 4). Know your serotonin: An interview with gut-brain axis researcher Elaine Hsiao. Retrieved from http://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/know-serotonin-interview-gut-brain-axis-researcher-elaine-hsiao/. January 24, 2018.
(5) Dr. Axe. Mood-boosting foods: 7 foods for greater happiness. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/mood-boosting-foods/. January 24, 2018.