by Terra Lynn
The holiday season often comes with long to-do lists, packed social calendars, vacation travel, and annual gatherings with family and friends. Then comes January, when the holiday lights come down, the decorations get packed away, the parties, family time, and vacations end, and the winter weather starts to really set in. It’s a scenario that can make it hard to stay cheery and bright. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to keep your mood up and avoid the post-holiday slump. Here are five we think are beneficial:
1) Get Plenty of Omega-3 EPA
Omega-3s are some of the most researched nutrients ever, with more than 16,000 studies published to date. Omega-3 fish oil is also one of the first supplements you should reach for to support a healthy mood.* Why? Because scientific evidence shows that the omega-3 essential fats in fish oil—EPA and DHA—support healthy brain and cognitive function throughout every stage of life.* Your brain depends on these fats to build healthy cell membranes.* In fact, they are the most common fatty acids in the brain. Research suggests that EPA, in particular, can support healthy nervous system function.* A concentrated EPA fish oil supplement can be an easy way to get a healthy serving of this important nutrient for brain health.*
2) Get Outside and Get More Vitamin D
Spending time outdoors—and in nature or green space, specifically—is one of the best things you can do to beat the winter blues. Spending time outdoors has been linked to mood and mental health benefits, research shows. In fact, spending time outdoors in nature has been found to be beneficial to all body systems. In Japan, it’s an established health care routine which roughly translates to “forest bathing,” and it’s catching on here in the U.S. You don’t need to spend hours outside, either. Researchers have found that as little as 30 minutes in nature over the course of a week can significantly help maintain a healthy mood.
Spending time outdoors is also a good opportunity to absorb some vitamin D, an essential nutrient virtually every cell in your body needs.* But this time of year, when the days are shorter and we see less of the sun, it makes sense to supplement your vitamin D supply.
During the winter months, the UVB portion of the sun’s rays is low to nonexistent in northern latitudes—not enough to produce vitamin D. The farther north you live from the equator, the less UVB there is available. North of Atlanta, there isn’t enough UVB to produce vitamin D from about November to February; north of New York City, the same is true from about October through March.
How can you know if there’s enough UVB available from sunlight in your area to make vitamin D? The Vitamin D Council recommends a quick and easy way: Check the length of your shadow. If your shadow is longer than you are tall, then you aren’t able to make enough vitamin D (due to the oblique angle of the sun), and you should consider taking a high-quality daily D3 supplement instead.
Being physically active during the day is key to getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining a healthy mood.
3) Make Time for Sleep and Exercise
Getting adequate sleep on a consistent basis is criticalfor mental health and mood support. Sleep difficulties can often contribute to mood challenges, and feeling blue can often disrupt our sleep—which can lead to a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. So this time of year, be extra mindful of your sleep habits. Keep to a consistent bedtime, minimize caffeine and sugar intake late in the day, and avoid exposure to blue light, especially in the evening.
The part of our brain that regulates our circadian rhythms (called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN) is located at the intersection of our optic nerves, where light and darkness signal the processes that wake us up and make us sleepy. Without darkness, our brains aren’t signaled to produce the melatonin that helps us fall asleep. That’s why avoiding evening light is often the most important thing we can do to sleep well. Be extra careful with digital devices—smartphones, tablets, and TVs all emit blue light, which is precisely the kind of light that is most disruptive to our circadian rhythms.
Being physically active during the day is also key to getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining a healthy mood. In addition to its many other health benefits for your entire body, regular exercise has been shown to support a range of biological processes involved in maintaining a healthy mood, including releasing “feel-good” endorphins in the brain.
4) Spend Quality Time with Friends
Even though the holidays ending may mean fewer social gatherings, it’s important to continue to make time for your relationships with loved ones. Positive, supportive relationships with family, friends, romantic partners—even furry friends—have been established to benefit our general health, and help maintain our mental health. Social media doesn’t count—it can make you feel more isolated, according to one research study. So make some time to connect offline with those to whom you are closest. Better yet, treat yourselves to a walk outside together on a regular basis, and combine quality time with exercise and outdoor time.
5) Help Others
It turns out that one of the best ways to make yourself feel good is actually to help others or the world around you. Simple acts of kindness like picking up litter, buying a friend a cup of coffee, or helping a family member cook dinner have been shown to do more to help support mood, mental health, and well-being than doing things for yourself. Research also shows that helping others is associated with greater longevity.
Why does this work? Biologically, helping others or the world around you activates regions in the brain associated with pleasure, and triggers the release of natural chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which generate a feel-good effect often termed “helper’s high.” That’s why even the simplest acts of volunteering your time, money, or kindness doesn’t just help make the world a better place—it also helps you feel good and maintain a healthy mood, and your overall well-being.
The holiday season may be over, but there’s plenty to feel happy about with a new year just beginning. Getting enough of what your body needs—omega-3s, vitamin D, outdoor time, sleep, exercise, and human connection—can help you keep your spirits bright no matter what the winter brings your way.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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