Beating Those Grey Winter Days

Dr. Brenda Gill
By Dr. Brenda Gill
January 23rd, 2015

It’s been great to get some e-mail suggestions for articles, so, I picked one that should help at this time of year -“It’s not severe, but there’s definitely a change in my mood on winter days, especially since I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark.  What can I do to feel more cheerful and still motivated when the days are short and the sun is behind the clouds.”  It certainly has been clouded in these days, but, It’s after the winter solstice, so, at least we can look forward to those longer days again.  It’s tough for many of us to leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark. 

One of the best solutions is to get out for a walk at lunchtime so you can enjoy some light.  It is important that we get natural light into the retina (the back of the eye).  This helps produce serotonin, which is a hormone that keeps us positive, motivated and excited about life.  Even on overcast days there is usually enough light to absorb into the eyes.  It’s also beneficial if the face is exposed, so that we will also convert sunshine to Vitamin D.  Many people aren’t aware that all contact lenses are UV protected, so, if you wear them all day long, you never get the right type of light into the eye to form necessary serotonin.  Therefore, if you can’t see without contacts or glasses, try to wear un-tinted glasses while out walking to get natural exposure and not to wear sunglasses, unless you’re skiing and getting a lot of refraction from the snow, they also block the natural light.   So, for those lucky enough to be able to get out during the day– bundle up, get out there for a brisk walk and relish  those rays of beautiful sunshine!

Another way to beat those blues is to use full spectrum lights in your reading/sitting areas.  These again help to supply the needed natural light to the retina.  They come in 40/60/100 W bulbs and fit into any normal lamp.  I get mine at Canadian Tire- GE makes one called Reveal light bulbs.  They are a blue-purple colour.  A more advanced version of these are SAD lights which emit a certain amount of lux to provide the right amount of natural light required in a day.  There are desk and overhead versions and for those that are more severely affected this would be the way to minimize the problem.

Foods that support the hormones are protein sources such as turkey, chicken and fish.  They are high in tryptophan, which gets converted by the body to form 5 HTP.  Other foods that also contribute are eggs, nuts and seeds/lamb and buffalo.   

Certain supplements may also be helpful.  The most important ones to consider are Vitamin C and B complex capsules with higher amounts of B5.  These are the main raw materials for the adrenal glands to maintain energy and mood stability and improves your ability to handle stressors.  Another possibility is tryptophan and tyrosine, which are amino acids from protein that are precursors to serotonin.  Slightly further along in the enzymatic process is 5HTP which is the direct precursor to serotonin.  Check that it is derived from a plant and not an artificial pharmaceutical source, since it doesn’t work as well. 

          Certain herbs may also be useful.  One of the most researched ones is St. John’s Wort.  It can be used to relieve anxiety as well as mild to moderate

depression.  However, it is important to use a standardized preparation with 0.3% hypericin, so that there is enough active constituent to match the studies.  You can take between 1-3/d depending on severity, body size and duration of symptoms.  Note, if you are already taking an anti-depressant, you will not need as much, since the St. John’s Wort will work similarly, so you need to discuss this with your practitioner.

Another  herb that contributes to mood stability is Motherwort.  It minimizes mood swings, irritability and anger.  Squawvine is also used to stabilize moods, especially if you tend to be feeling low.  Withania or Ashwaganda is an Indian herb that I use to re-build the adrenal gland and is often combined with Siberian ginseng.  Licorice is another wonderful herb that helps rebuild the adrenal glands, supports liver function and is calming to the nervous system.  It can be used in a tea or taken as a tincture.

          As always, you want to try to minimize over-burdening the adrenal glands with stimulants such as coffee/decaff coffee/black/green tea/rooibos tea/Yerba mate or Honeybush.  All these increase the load on the adrenal glands/nervous system and hormonal system and continually imbalance them.

          Other ways to transform that blah feeling is to plan a special dinner, cook a favorite meal, have friends over, meet friends for a drink or food, drive to the hot springs for a break, read a good book, treat yourself to a massage or anything that would make you happy.  One of the activities I have people do in my stress seminar is thinking of 5 things that make them happy and satisfied.  It’s amazing how many people can’t really come up with anything!  This illustrates how seldom people meet their own needs.  So, ask yourself that question and you are on the road to fulfilling them.   

So, try to get out of the slump by being pro-active and you will be amazed with yourself.  ATTITUDE, is everything at this time of year !

For those that still find they have a lack of motivation/drive or have a difficult time handling stressors, consider an appointment with DR. BRENDA GILL at  250-362-5035.

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