Beating the Winter Blues

Depression. In the US, antidepressant usage has climbed 65% in the past 15 years according to the National Centre for Health Statistics, and in Canada our antidepressant use is higher still.

In fact, Antidepressants usage in Canada is amongst the highest in the world, surpassed only by Iceland and Australia, and in the UK the numbers are similar.

If you’ve ever experienced severe depression, then you know the feeling of your brain feeling like it just sort of isn’t quite working fast enough to communicate with itself – like the neurons just aren’t quite linking up. It can feel a bit like the walls are caving in from all sides and your thoughts downspiral.

The way I see it, depression is usually linked to unexpressed grief. Because we live in a society without a context in which to express and be held through our grief for both the small and large things we lose, we can easily end up with more than a full cup of unexpressed emotion. I believe that rebuilding connective containers in which we can allow our grief to be fully expressed and held by compassionate fellow human beings will do much to alleviate the level of suffering we are currently experiencing as a collective.

That said, we also live in a physical body, and in order for our brains to function optimally, they need to be nourished with both the right foods and the right daily practices.

Think of the way you feel when sunshine is hitting your skin. There’s something to it, isn’t there? That is because our bodies, and our brains, actually receive nourishment from being in the sun. There are other ways we can give our brains and bodies similar nourishment. When winter hits in Canada and daylight hours are less than half of what we experience in the summer, it becomes even MORE essential to nourish our brains in other ways.

Here are my top 3 favourite resources, practices and tools to beat the winter blues, and/or boost your mood at any time of year.

  1. Moderate Exercise ~ research shows that regular exercise is as effective as anti-depressant meds, and it works faster too. While SSRI medications typically start having an effect within 4-6 weeks of treatment, it can take several months to feel the full effect.
    Exercise? Amost as soon as your body hits your unique threshold level of exercise-induced stress (yes, stress can be positive!) your brain begins to produce feel-good chemicals known as endorphins that instantly boost your mood. Also known as “runner’s high,” it’s that transition from feeling like you are dragging yourself to the point where your pace feels almost effortless. So you can literally start feeling better right away. It can take time to find your own unique threshold, and for less active folks you may be able to reach this in a 15 minute walk around the block. Too much exercise, however, can be harmful for the adrenals. Each person’s limit is going to be different depending on your fitness level and the functional level of your adrenals and thyroid. Here’s the other catch – you need to be consistent! You can’t just go for a walk one day and expect yourself to feel better for the next two weeks. You need to move your body every day and ideally you want cardio at least 3x per week and if you’re just walking for 20 minutes you probably need to do it daily. Longer harder exercise can carry you for several days and its good to rest for a day in between intensive cardio work outs.

    I recommend getting outside and moving your body first thing in the morning especially if you are struggling with seasonal depression. Why? Well that leads us to the second point.

  2. Get as much natural light as possible first thing in the morning. Especially if you work in an office building or other indoor environment with limited windows, getting full spectrum light first thing in the morning is key. Not only does this help lift our mood by stimulating our brain to produce more serotonin, but it actually helps balance & regulate cortisol levels, and therefore sets us up for overall hormone balance. If you can’t get out and expose yourself to natural light, ideally by 7am and throughout the day, you may want to consider purchasing a full spectrum lamp or “Happy Light.” I recommend this ones or this one.

  3. Nourish Your Brain with Blue Green Algae ~ One of my favourite products for supporting brain health is E3 Live Blue Green Algae. This algae, scientifically known as Alphinazomen Flos-Aquae, is one of very few foods that can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and bring nourishment in the form of vitamins, minerals & amino acids directly to the brain. It is chock full of amino acids aka readily absorbable protein, and specifically contains large amounts of the amino acid Phenylalanine or PEA. PEA is known as the “happy neurotransmitter” and it is found in large amounts in the brain when we are doing something or with someone we love! This algae is serious brain food. Like any healing food, there are a few cautions. While some athletes will actually drink up to a whole bottle of the algae in a day during intensive competition, start slowly. Less is more as your body adjusts to taking it, and you can increase your dose gradually until you find what feels good in your unique body. Personally I take about one ounce (a shotglass) twice a day when I’m wanting a mood booster. The other caution is if you are hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid) or have Hashimotos, as it is known to stimulate thyroid function, which can be great if you just have a sluggish thyroid. Just remember to support your adrenals too! You can find it in your local health food store, or order it online here.

Those are my top 3 recommendations and I’ve got a few more I’ll share with you next week.

In the meantime, do something every day to nourish just you, because only you can give yourself the radiant health & well-being you deserve.

In love & light,

Josea

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