Feeling low this winter? Here is our selection of the most helpful tips to naturally boost your mood in the cold and dark season.
- Get outside
We need bright daylight to enter our eyes to stimulate adequate production of serotonin – the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of contentment and pleasure. Exercise is a natural mood-booster too, triggering production of other feel-good chemicals called endorphins.
So while staying indoors and ‘hibernating’ in winter can be nice for the odd day, making it a regular occurrence can spell disaster for your mood! Whenever you can, make an effort to get outside for at least an hour every day – preferably in the morning. Playing a sport, doing an outdoor exercise class, or just walking are all valuable ways to get moving as well as get some daylight.
- Make sure you’re getting enough protein
Protein in our foods breaks down into smaller compounds called amino acids. The body uses some of these to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which affect our mood, energy and motivation. Particularly important is the amino acid tryptophan, for making serotonin; it’s been found that diets low in tryptophan can trigger low mood and depression.
But rather than focusing on specific tryptophan-containing foods, it can be best just to make sure you’re getting enough protein overall, from a variety of sources. Animal foods tend to be highest in protein – including meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products. The best plant sources are beans, lentils and chickpeas, and nuts and seeds. Check out our previous post on ‘Why is it so important to get enough protein?’ for more on the best sources and how much you need to be eating.
- Eat oily fish
Oily fish (including mackerel, salmon and sardines) have to be the number one mood-boosting food. Firstly because they’re our best source of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. DHA is vital for healthy brain function, and EPA has been directly linked to better mood. Although we can get some omega-3s from plant foods such as flaxseeds and chia seeds and their oils, they’re not in the same form as those found in fish and may not be as helpful.
Fish are great sources of protein too, to provide the raw materials for neurotransmitters (as per the previous point). And they’re high in B vitamins, which support the brain and nervous system and play a role in making neurotransmitters too.
If you don’t like eating oily fish, then taking a fish oil supplement may be beneficial. Choose one with a high content of EPA – preferably at least 500mg per daily dose.
For more on EPA and DHA and the benefits of oily fish, see our previous post on ‘Why are oily fish so good for us?’
- Take a vitamin D supplement
Our natural levels of vitamin D can drop very low over winter, due to the lack of strong sunlight on our skin (or any sunlight at all!). As well as being vital for strong bones and a healthy immune system, vitamin D may play a role in mood. In fact, it’s thought that the lack of vitamin D over winter could be a factor in winter depression – often known as ‘seasonal affective disorder’ or SAD. To keep your vitamin D topped up, it can be helpful to take a daily vitamin D supplement over winter – a daily dose of around 1000 IU or up to 2000 IU (25 to 50 µg) of vitamin D3 is a good amount to aim for. See our post on vitamin D for more information on all the roles of this essential nutrient.
- Get your greens
Dark green veggies are among our best sources of magnesium, a mineral that’s vital for healthy psychological function and mood. They’re also high in fibre, low in calories and high in beneficial plant compounds such as carotenoids. Try to get two servings a day as part of your five (or preferably seven!) servings of vegetables and fruits.
- Get enough sleep
Do you make sleep a priority, or is “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” your favourite motto?
Poor sleep has been shown to impact most areas of our health, including increasing the risk of illness and chronic diseases such as heart disease. Lack of quality sleep can also directly affect our mood, disrupting natural levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brain. It’s thought that we need seven to nine hours of sleep a night for optimal health. So make an effort to get those zzzz’s!
- Get social
If you’re feeling low it can be easy to isolate yourself, but this is likely to make you feel more lonely and depressed. Maintaining your social activities over winter is a key way to stay happier. This doesn’t mean going out drinking every night – in fact, although alcohol can make you feel good initially, it tends to have an overall depressive effect on mood, as well as disturbing your sleep (see previous point!). Instead, make regular plans to meet friends, try a new activity, or join a new class or a group, for example.
We hope these tips are helpful and we wish you a happy winter!