We are just a few days away from the both dreaded and beloved time change. Beloved, because it gives us an extra hour to sleep in, dreaded because it makes our days seem so much shorter. If you are like me, you may be looking at your clock as it is already dark at 6:30 and thinking that this time next week it will only be 5:30 and this dark. I feel a full body sigh every time I think about it, and then prepare myself for the impending zap to my energy and mood. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. Here are a few things you can do to help keep your mood and energy up during the darker colder months.
1) Sleep. Maintaining a regular sleep pattern is one of the most important things you can do to regulate your moods. This is especially true for people who have mood disorders, but it really affects everyone. Regular sleep and wake times help you to fall asleep easily and wake refreshed. The darker days can wreak havoc on this pattern because we have to turn artificial lights on to go about our business. Oftentimes we will not even think about dimming them as it gets closer to bed time. Unfortunately, this can disrupt our melatonin production – a brain chemical that signals that it is time for sleep. It is always a good idea to use dimmer lights and unplug from screens an hour or so before bed to allow your body to prepare for sleep. This is even more important to be aware of during the darker months because we don’t have the sun setting close to the time to unwind.
2) Exercise. Not only does exercise inherently help with mood by releasing endorphins that alleviate depression and reduce anxiety, it helps maintain the oh so important sleep. Regular exercise has been shown again and again to be one of the best (if underutilized) natural mood stabilizers. Studies have shown that the best time for exercise for mood is morning, but I say do it any time you can commit to, as long as it isn’t too late. Late evening exercise can actually be energizing and disruptive to sleep. So take a walk break with lunch, or wake up for morning yoga. And remember, exercise doesn’t have to feel like work. Find something you love to do, whether it be dancing, running with your dog, hiking, surfing, or snowboarding, and exercise will not feel like so much of a chore.
3) Eat Well. Food is always important when it comes to mood and energy. Unfortunately, most of us have a tendency to reach for highly processed or sugary foods when we feel low or sluggish. We don’t want to put energy into making nutritious foods and appreciate the temporary surge in energy, somehow forgetting the inevitable sugar-crash. Additionally, sugary and processed foods are linked with increasing inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation has been linked to depression as well as worse outcomes for treatment in most chronic illnesses. Making sure that you continue to eat whole foods, primarily seasonal vegetables and lean proteins, will help maintain consistent energy and focus throughout your day and reduce inflammation. So why not pull out your crock pots and throw in some yummy root vegetables and your favorite protein source and make a hearty and healthy stew to come home to? Or a veggie filled chili for a cold night? At Fountainhead, we are currently updating and refining the Fountainhead Bipolar Diet. For more information on that, click here.
4) Vitamin D. Everyone knows that low vitamin D is linked to depression. Did you know that it is also linked to lowered immune function? Nothing will zap your mood and energy like getting the cold that is being passed around at the office or your child’s school. We do make Vitamin D with our skin, but this is hampered by the cold months where we not only stay indoors more, but tend to keep our skin completely covered when we are outside. Vitamin D is fat soluble (which is why we take it food or emulsified in fat), so that means it can be stored in your body. For this reason, supplementation should only be done after you have been tested to see if you actually have a deficiency.
5) Fish Oil. Omega-3s are everywhere in health news these days. And why shouldn’t they be? They reduce inflammation that can be associated with a poor diet (as we talked about above), and help improve cognition. Studies have also shown that higher doses of fish oil can help improve mood stability, even in patient with bipolar disorder. Talk to your doctor about any interactions with current meds, especially if you are considering doses over 2 grams and are on blood thinners, and look for a high quality product. Fish oil should be tested for any toxic metals (especially mercury), and should not taste “fishy.” Some fish oils are mixed with other oils or stored in a way that they are more likely to go rancid, which is what produces this “fishy” smell or taste. Freezing the capsules can also help for those who are ultra sensitive to the taste, even with a high quality product.
The colder months don’t have to be the sad and unproductive months. With a bit of effort, especially around the time change, you can protect yourself against the doldrums of the season.
This blog also appears on Dr. Bahr’s website www.DrJenniferBahr.com.