As many of us are experiencing, most of North America is in a winter that is far colder than normal. For anyone who is sensitive to cold (animal or person), these colder climes can have us feeling blue. For some of us, feeling cold is so uncomfortable that we go to extreme measures to avoid it. However try as we might, sometimes there is just no escaping the cold.
The cold weather not only affects our moods, it also affects our physical bodies. When we are cold, there is more risk of pulling a muscle, imbalanced walking, muscle atrophy, respiratory system and circulation. The combination of mental and physical discomfort often leads to a deep depression. In some cases, we are well aware of our seasonal depression. In others, it goes unexamined, leaving us feeling unquestionably miserable.
Of course, going to see our doctor is an important part of mental wellness. However, it is often avoidable by making a few small changes to our routine. Some of the time, shifting several small aspects of our routine can make all of the difference to beating the winter blues. Here are five easy shifts that we can make to our winter routines that can help us combat seasonal depression:

1) EXERCISE- Exercise is a well known method of mood regulation. Particularly cardiovascular exercise which raises endorphins which raises the spirit. Endorphins cause a feeling of euphoria after exercise. Though most are familiar with the term “runner’s high” when considering the boost of endorphins after exercise, cardiovascular exercise does not have to mean running or any other high impact body movements. An effective cardiovascular workout is one that moderately, intermediately or greatly elevates the heart rate. Fast walking, swimming, cycling (even stationary or spinning) are all effective means of raising the heart rate. Circuit training or other fast-paced weight training with light weights is also a beneficial endorphin- causing exercise. It is not necessary to lift heavy weights for an endorphin release. Lifting lighter weights in many repetitions (20 or more per set) helps with muscular endurance which will in turn raise the endorphin levels of the brain. Not only do endorphins help us to feel happy, they also minimize physical pain.

2) ADAPTOGENS- Adaptogens are used in herbal medicine for various health benefits. One such benefit is that they promote stabilization of moods, hormones and physiological processes. Adaptogens have been used in Ayurvedic medicine to elevate moods and regulate hormones. Adaptogens moderate stress responses which is to say that when we become stressed, anxious or depressed, our reaction to those feelings is calmer and more regulated. Adaptogen herbs treat the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis. This is to say that they keep the brain and hormones in check and balance. Additionally, increasing adaptogens in the diet promotes homeostasis. This means that they keep body cells healthy and unchanged so that they are unimpaired by external conditions. Adaptogens boost the immune system so that fewer pathogens can infiltrate the body. This means that fewer allergies, flu-like symptoms, chronic fatigue or terminal illness attack the body, leaving the body in a healthier state for longer. Several examples of adaptogen herbs are: Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Ginseng, Astralagus, St John’s Wort to name a few. Be sure to consult your local holistic doctor or local herb consultant to be sure which option is the best for you.

3) INCREASE SUNLIGHT- Studies have shown that those with seasonal depression show some improvement when they increase their sunlight exposure. This may mean direct sunlight, indirect sunlight such as through a window or using an indoor tanning bed for no more than 7 minutes at a time. Though there is much discrepancy about whether or not indoor tanning is healthy, for those who have seasonal depression, indoor tanning is often highly effective in elevating moods. If indoor tanning is not an option, sitting inside your home by a sunny window for a half hour or more can also help to treat those seasonal blues. Sunlight is a powerful healer.

4) INCREASE OMEGA FATTY ACIDS- Studies have shown that ingesting an appropriate amount of EFA’s (essential fatty acids) in the diet can help to regulate brain hormones. The brain requires an adequate amount of Omega 3’s to properly function. It has been discovered through research that many people who have depression are deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids. Several case studies were performed on various types of depression with various sources of omega fatty acids. Though research is fairly recent, the studies showed a significant decrease in seasonal, chronic, postpartum and severe depression through the intake of omega fatty acids. There are two types of Omega’s; EPA and DHA. The above studies showed that food sources that contained both of the types of Omegas were the most effective in the treatment of depression. Common sources of omega fatty acids are: salmon, salmon oil, almonds, avocados, eggs, CBD oil, algae oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil with DHA, hemp seed oil, sardines. It is unnecessary to eat all of these food sources. It is important to do your research in order to discern which options are right for you.

5) LAUGHTER- It is commonly stated that “laughter is the best medicine”. This is the truth! When we laugh, we immediately shift our vibration to a higher state. This is because our brain and body react to the joyful feeling that comes along with laughter. Our body reflects the joyful feeling, raising our vibration out of the depths. Too, when we smile, the brain releases dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. Laughing also produces endorphins which, as we learned above, create a natural high. Laughter decreases cortisol levels which is the hormone responsible for stress and worry. Laughter also increases serotonin which is the hormone responsible for regulation of moods. Laughter, both experientially and scientifically truly is the best medicine!

Thankfully, this winter shall pass. In the mean time, the above mood elevating techniques will help us to stay positive!

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