Are you experiencing sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, excessive sleep, and have you lost interest in activities that you normally enjoy?
Do you crave starches and sweets and as a result gained weight from eating them?
Does this occur in the winter when the days get shorter?
If yes, you may have seasonal affective disorder. if yes to some and it is not seasonal, you may be feeling the effects of the pandemic more because daylight is less and/or you may be depressed.
Let’s face it, the upheaval of our everyday life from the pandemic is getting to people. Social distancing, isolation, colder temperatures, less light, less ability to be active and outside is taking its toll physically, and mentally. Aside from that, there may be financial and job losses, taking on new roles and trying to home school your children while running a household and trying to do your job as well as social upheaval and anxiety of the unknown.
Any one of these would be enough to make you anxious or depressed, however there are some things you can do to feel better so you can cope better regardless of whether or not your feelings are seasonal.
Is Serotonin the Secret?
Serotonin is the happy neurotransmitter and is the bass for using Prozac and other serotonin reuptake inhibitors otherwise known as SSRI’s for depression. Levels of this happy neurotransmitter are lower in the winter. You need certain nutrients to make it.
Serotonin is made from tryptophan the amino acid responsible for photosynthesis a process dependent on light. Tryptophan goes through several steps to be converted to 5 HTP (5 hydroxy tryptophan). Then 5 HTP converts to serotonin.
Most serotonin is made in the gut, that is why a healthy gut is critical for serotonin production. The serotonin is transported to the brain and darkness triggers the pineal gland to convert serotonin to melatonin. These reactions require tryptophan from protein, niacin, iron, folate, zinc, B6, magnesium, and vitamin C.
Do you have what it takes to make it?
- Tryptophan is found in high-protein foods like chicken, fish, nuts and spinach.
- Digestion to break down the protein is critical. Be sure to chew food thoroughly and relax while eating to give your body time to make digestive enzymes. If you don’t have enough digestive enzymes and your food sits in your stomach or you have gas or bloating, you can supplement with digestive enzymes.
- 5 HTP is a supplement you can take, however avoid it if you are already on an SSRI antidepressant medication. The body does not have to go through all of the steps to get from tryptophan to 5HTP.
- Vitamins and minerals from eating high quality protein such as chicken or fish and 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day in every color of the rainbow may give you the nutrients you need to make serotonin. Most people would benefit from a multivitamin mineral supplement to get niacin, iron, folate, zinc, B6, magnesium, and vitamin C since many people are deficient in these even when eating a healthy diet.
- Light exposure triggers serotonin production. First morning light is best for at least 30 minutes but anytime is good. It may take 1-2 weeks to feel the benefits. If you can’t get enough light, try a light box such as:
Your Gut Regulates Your Feelings!
- Probiotics can restore healthy gut bacteria that produce serotonin. Eat fermented foods and/or take some probiotics to lift your spirits. Most serotonin is made in the gut.
- Prebiotic food feeds the gut microbiome and are in foods such as chicory, dandelion, onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, and apple. You could always add a prebiotic supplement containing inulin-FOS, acacia fiber, and/or artichoke fiber.
- Vitamin D is not only the sunshine vitamin, it promotes good gut and immune health and people with depression tend to have low levels. This sunshine vitamin can elevate your mood.
- Exercising aerobically changes your brain chemistry and lifts depression. Exercise releases negative emotions and brain chemicals called endorphins that give you a natural high. It can also raise serotonin levels in your brain that boost your mood and overall sense of well-being.
- Pleasurable activity is a great escape and antidote to depression. You can derive a sense of accomplishment if you focus on learning and building new skills or get lost in a hobby.
- Reflect on simple pleasures and focusing on gratitude or what brought you pleasure in the past, can recreate the experience in your mind that can be reflected in the physical body. Listening to music can bring you back to the good old days or reading or watching something uplifting can lift your mood.
- Journaling is an emotional release. Letting your feelings out in a safe way can lift your mood especially if you then follow up with positive affirming statements and create on paper something you would prefer. Focus on what you can look forward to creating even if it seems far off. Tap into your faith and spirituality.
- Structure your time like an astronaut! Scott Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station, described the tremendous psychological value of:
- Following a schedule and leading a structured life with a consistent bedtime.
- Pacing yourself and mix in some fun and play.
- Go outside and if you can’t, grow some plants and play nature sounds.
- Indulge in a hobby such as art, music, dance or learning something new.
- Journal and describe your feelings rather than day to day events.
- Take time to connect even if it is virtual. Isolation can dampen your mood and immune system.
- Seek support and reach out for help from qualified experts.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very practical form of therapy. It focuses on challenging unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and developing coping strategies that target solving current problems.
These are certainly challenging times and recognize that sometimes you can’t do it alone. If you need nutritional, medical or mindset support and help with implementing these strategies, reach out to the Vibrance for Life Team. If these strategies don’t help, find a good therapist in your area.