Keep that spring in your step on even the darkest of days with these great ideas for staying sane
One of the most common reasons for feeling ’blah’ now winter’s here is missing out on exposure to light. Waking up to darkness deprives you of the daylight that kick-starts your brain into producing hormones that make you feel active. The solution? “Get outdoors every day while it’s light for a minimum of 20 minutes,” says Linda Blair, clinical psychologist and author of Straight Talking. “Sunlight triggers chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain that make you feel better.”
Want even more light? Then invest in a dawn simulator, which reproduces the gradually rising light levels of a spring day and also aims to copy the atmospheric conditions outside.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, it’s an effective way to help stop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a more serious form of the winter blues, in its tracks. If you know you’re prone to SAD, try using a light box. It emits a bright light believed to help your brain reproduce a balance of the chemicals it creates in summertime, when we tend to feel happier. To buy or hire one, and for more information about SAD, contact The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association.
To help balance your mood, make sure you eat regularly and choose the right foods. “To reduce sluggishness, try to keep your blood-sugar levels constant,” says Bridget Aisbitt, nutritionist with the British Nutrition Foundation. Don’t be tempted to skip meals, and get your energy from complex starches. “Go for wholegrain bread and brown rice and pasta rather than the white versions. And try porridge, too. All of these will help keep your mood steady,” advises Bridget.
Next time you’re shopping, buy a bunch of bananas. They contain tryptophan, a substance the body uses to make the happy-hormone serotonin, and also contain vitamin B6 – which helps to regulate your blood sugar level and stabilise your mood.
Exercise is one of life’s great mood boosters. Researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia found that exercise increases levels of serotonin in your brain, while another study at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina found that for some people, regular exercise (even brisk walking) can combat feeling down as effectively as taking some medications.
Listening to songs you love can give you a boost. A study published in the journal of the American Psychological Association monitored the emotions of 32 students in Sweden at various points throughout the day. Researchers found the students felt happy or elated more often when they were listening to music than when they weren’t.
You most likely took it in pregnancy for your growing baby, but folic acid (folate) can also help stop you feeling blue. Without plenty of this wonder-B vit and vitamin B12, your body doesn’t produce enough S-adenosylmethionine (an important mood regulator that boosts levels of the happy-hormone, serotonin, in the brain) – so say researchers at the Harvard Medical School. Great sources of folate include asparagus and green leafy vegetables as well as oranges and beans, while fish and meat (in particular liver, beef, trout and salmon), and fortified cereals contain high levels of vitamin B12.
“When you’re in a low cycle, you tend to concentrate on what’s gone wrong rather than what’s good,” says psychologist Linda Blair. “Before you go to bed, write down one good thing that happened to you during the day and stick it to your fridge or pin board. The next day you’ll see that and immediately feel positive about what went right yesterday.”
Check out steps 9-16 to help you to a feel-good mood...
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