Five ways to beat the winter blues

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Saturday January 22, 2011

Astrid Van Den Broek 


Oh you can just feel it, can’t you? We’re closing in on that time of year--the time of trampled, defeated snow banks. Hurdling dirty slushy puddles. Staring down sun-free grey days.

For many of us, this kind of weather means the winter blues lurk around the corner, a condition more officially recognized as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This bleak seasonal depression, triggered by the lack of daylight we receive, can start creeping into our mindset as early as the fall, but more often, it hits around the short, grey and cold days of February and March.

With that in mind, I asked Karen Liberman, executive director of the Toronto-based Mood Disorders Association of Ontariofor some easy ways to offset the condition. “The reality is you can’t prevent everything but you can take steps to improve your mood,” says Liberman.

Need some help to beat your blues? Here are five ways to boost your mood.

Know the signs:“So when you find yourself craving more and more sleep, or more carbohydrates, you at least recognize that something might be on,” says Liberman. Other symptoms include fatigue, irritability, low energy and even having trouble concentrating.

Move, move, move: “Physiologically, exercise creates [feel-good chemicals] endorphins and those endorphins are very, very helpful in terms of brain chemistry associated with depression,” says Liberman. “So anything—it doesn’t always have to be going to the gym—but any kind of brisk exercise that gets your heart going is helpful.”

Get outside: Even better, exercise outside. “SAD is about the amount of light any given day brings,” she says. “Because what we’re trying to do is get outdoor light, even on dull, grey days. You need those daylight hours.” Lieberman notes that even sitting closer to the window from inside your office might help.

Eat this, not that: “One symptom unique to SAD is you just want to eat every carbohydrate you can,” she says. “Substitute complex carbohydrates into your diet, so carbohydrates that satisfy you but don’t get turned into insulin too quickly.” (Think beans, brown rice, wholegrain breads and high-fibre cereals.) Also boosting the omega 3 fatty acids in your diet helps turn things around—things like fish, turkey and almonds. “Omega 3 is one of the only natural substances that have been tested and proven to have a positive impact on serotonin,” adds Liberman. (Serotonin is the brain chemical that helps regulate mood.)

Be friendly:“You often don’t feel like getting out, but getting out with positive people really helps you feel better as well,” she says.