Combating the winter blues, natural ways to cheer up

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), termed the winter blues is a type of a depression experienced in the colder months where the days are short, dark and sunshine is very limited. While SAD disorder is not common in Australia, the colder months can still leave you sluggish and exacerbate feelings of low mood.

You can feel normal with simple diet and lifestyle changes:

1. Fatty Fish - Fatty acids are an important component of the human brain and make up 60% of the myelin sheath (layer that protects nerve cells) and the neuronal membrane. Omega 3 fatty acids play a crucial role, in healthy brain function and can only be obtained through the diet. Fatty fish have the highest concentration of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA prevents inflammation in the body and plays a role in cell signalling while EPA regulates mood and cognition.

Good choices include: Salmon, mackerel, sardines

2. Protein -Protein is broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks for your neurotransmitters (chemicals which communicate between nerve cells). Protein also contains Zinc and Iron which are cofactors in neurotransmitter production. Protein at every meal also helps to balance blood sugar, sustain energy and decrease the afternoon slump. Good sources Kangaroo, chicken, fish, eggs, yoghurt and legumes.

3. Ditch the green smoothie - Your body needs warming up this time of the year, throw your veggies in a homemade bone broth, hearty stews and curries. Consume at least 5 serves of vegetables a day. Choose seasonal winter produce: root vegetables, cauliflower, Asian greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach and spring onions.

4. Chase the sunlight: We are lucky in Australia we still enjoy sunny days during the winter months. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with SAD and symptoms of depression. Supplementation is necessary in the winter months to ensure optimal levels.

Enjoy the morning sunshine, open up the blinds, sit next to the window on public transport and go for a morning walk. Morning sunlight improves mood, increases serotonin production your feel good neurotransmitter.

5. Exercise - While the benefits are endless research suggest that regular exercise is more effective than antidepressants. Working up a regular sweat, boosts mood with the release of endorphins.

6. Cut down on sugar and refined foods - Refined foods will leave you feeling fatigued due to blood sugar spikes and crashes that they contribute to. They also rob the body of valuable B vitamins, which are needed for maintaining a good mood and healthy brain chemistry.

7. Cacao - Studies have shown that regular intake of cacao can boost mood. The plant chemical compounds, theobromine and phenylethyamine, are said to be responsible for helping you relax. Choose good quality dark chocolate 70% or higher cacao content. Or make a warm drink with 1 tablespoons of cacao with your choice of milk add spices cinnamon, vanilla, chilli and a little raw honey to sweeten

7. Get more of the Hug Hormone - Oxytocin the love hormone is released during sexual activity and during and after childbirth. You can get a little more with a 20 second hug, petting your dog or cat for 15mins or smiling at a random stranger. Oxytocin increases our social connectivity & facilitates transmission of your feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin.

8. Relax - Long- term meditation practice can decrease stress hormones, decreases anxiety, improve mood and sleep quality. Download the app Smiling Mind and tap in daily.

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