Winter can be a wonderful time of year to enjoy snuggling up and watching a good film. But with the evenings drawing in, the cold weather and the lack of sunlight to brighten our day, many of us start feeling a little blue.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips from nutritionist Cassandra Barns to help you stay in good spirits all winter long.
… Just go for slow-releasing ones. Carbohydrates have a natural mood-boosting effect by encouraging production of serotonin – our main ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. But rather than toast, pasta, a donut or a slice of cake, which will give you a short-lived high followed by a slump, go for a bowl of warming porridge made with wholegrain oats. Oats break down and release carbohydrates more slowly into the body, giving you sustained energy and helping to even out your mood. Spice up your porridge with some cinnamon, and add sunflower seeds, which provide protein, fibre and healthy fats.
Getting out and moving – especially in the morning – is a ‘two for the price of one’ when it comes to mood. Firstly, bright daylight entering your eyes triggers serotonin production. Even on an overcast day, natural daylight is much brighter than artificial light indoors. Secondly, of course, exercise helps produce feel-good chemicals called endorphins. You don’t necessarily need to work up a sweat, either: even walking can be beneficial.
Maintaining your social activities over winter is a key way to stay happy. This doesn’t necessarily mean going out drinking – in fact, alcohol can have a negative effect on mood. Make regular plans to see friends, or try joining a new class or group. There’s nothing wrong with having the odd duvet day, but going into semi-permanent hibernation can just make you feel lonely and even more down in the dumps.
As we’ve seen, the average sugary or carby treat can just send your mood plummeting after the initial ‘hit’ has passed. But dark chocolate – especially made with raw cacao – can actually have longer-lasting benefits for your mood. And it may work in several ways.
Firstly, cacao contains small amounts of a natural substance called phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical that’s also made in our brain and is associated with pleasure. Other substances in cacao may also stimulate production of serotonin and dopamine (a brain chemical associated with feelings of reward and motivation). And cacao is rich in magnesium, which plays a vital role in producing and recycling brain chemicals such as serotonin, as well as helping our body to make energy from food we eat.
Lastly, if you love the taste of chocolate, just indulging in your favourite treat can release endorphins in the brain. And with dark chocolate, you’re getting the endorphin hit without the sugar overload.
Spices such as cinnamon and ginger have a wonderful warming effect – perfect to pick you up on a cold autumn or winter day. Cinnamon may help to regulate blood sugar levels, keeping your energy and mood on an even keel; and ginger is thought to have immune-boosting effects too, to help ward off winter bugs that can bring you down. Add cinnamon to porridge or use it in a spiced chai latte. Fresh ginger is perfect to make a warming tea.
Taking a bath is a lovely way to relax and warm up. Try boosting your mood by adding some aromatherapy oils. If you want to feel more energised, go for citrus-based oils such as lemon or grapefruit, or if you want to relax then pick geranium or lavender.
Listening to your favourite music is a great way to boost your mood too. It helps you feel present in the moment, and triggers the release of endorphins. Singing can be a great way to release stress and tension from the body, and dancing is great to get your body moving and brush off the cobwebs!