This is not humbug. It is true. Winter season is the saddest season of the year. It is also the darkest season of the year. It is a time of the year when the number of daylight hours in the light–day cycle of each day has decreased the most. Winter is a time when the serotonin level in the brain is lowered.
Serotonin is a hormone that is most commonly known to affect mood. It is a neurotransmitter – a chemical substance that transmits impulses that cross the spaces between nerve cells (synapses). Serotonin is known as the “feel good” hormone. But, low levels of serotonin in the brain cause sadness and depression.
When sunlight shines on our eyes, it transmits a signal from the eye to the brain to make more serotonin. In winter months, with less sunlight and dark overcast days, our brain is making less serotonin. Lower levels of serotonin cause us to have feelings of sadness, irritability, depression, and headaches.
According to research, lower levels of serotonin are correlated with higher levels of irritability, impulsiveness, and aggression. Scientists know that increasing serotonin levels in the brain helps relieve symptoms of depression.
Promises to Keep
December 21 is the winter solstice – the shortest, hence the darkest, day of the year. Robert Frost wrote about this day in his poem, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
Frost ends his poem:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Fortunately, there are plenty of natural ways we can boost our mood by helping our brain produce increased levels of serotonin. To increase the level of serotonin in your brain, make a promise to yourself to do the following:
- Take a moderate to brisk, 30 minutes or more, daily walk at midday. This will give you a double benefit. Regular exercise is one of the easiest ways to naturally boost your neurotransmitters. Also, it is important to increase your exposure to light as much as possible. Going for a brisk walk at midday without sunglasses increases your exposure to sunlight. Sunlight naturally stimulates the production of serotonin. Getting lots of natural light will boost your mood and increase your energy.
- Eat a variety of whole, natural, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. Stay away from highly processed and refined foods. Include some healthy proteins and fat with each meal to keep your blood sugar from going through the sugar highs and lows that disrupt your hormone production.
- B-complex vitamins are vital for energy and the production of serotonin in your brain. B-complex vitamins are water-soluble nutrients that are produced by beneficial bacteria in your gut. Because they are water-soluble excess B-complex vitamins are excreted, not stored in the body. For this reason, they must be continually replaced every day. B-complex vitamins are indispensable. They are considered the single most important factor for the healthy maintenance of your nervous system. If you are tired, irritable, nervous, or depressed, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. I recommend a professional grade probiotic supplement in order to maintain a healthy ratio of beneficial bacteria (85%) over harmful bacteria. It is the beneficial bacteria that produce B vitamins.
Understand the serotonin/food myths
There are a lot of myths about increasing brain levels of serotonin by eating certain foods, like bananas, that contain serotonin. Bananas do contain serotonin, but serotonin is not able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Therefore serotonin that is used inside the brain must be produced within the brain.