How to Beat Blue Monday
Blue Monday, the third weekend in January, is officially recognised as the most depressing day of the year. And no wonder, with bills from the festive season, miserable weather, long dark evenings and the aftereffects of Christmas overindulgence.
This year, worries about how to stay safe amid ever-changing restrictions will no doubt add up to making this a challenging time of the year for many.
In this blog you’ll discover why low mood happens and learn some strategies to beat the blues all year round.
It’s Not all in Your Mind
It’s tempting to think when you suffer from low mood, depression, anxiety or stress that somehow you’ve failed by not having a positive mindset. But when you appreciate how your body affects your mood, you’ll understand why it’s not always possible to simply think yourself out of the blues.
If your body’s biochemistry is out of balance, it will affect how you view life and your reactions to what happens around you.
Why So Blue?
Feelings of low mood are connected with alterations in brain chemicals, such as serotonin. If you have too little serotonin you’ll probably feel anxious yet fatigued, with low mood, have difficulty sleeping and crave sweets or comfort foods. Dopamine, your feelgood chemical, is responsible for pleasure, while GABA helps you feel calm. Finally, the lesser-known Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a hormone helping brain cells communicate.
Many people with low mood have disturbed levels of these brain chemicals, either too low or too high. The medical solution is to give drugs designed to restore brain chemistry balance, but they often come with side effects. In functional medicine we like to dig deeper and discover why your brain’s communication system is out of kilter, as well as examining other factors known to contribute to mood disorders, such as inflammation and gut health.
Your Mood, Your Gut and Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in mood disorders by affecting brain cells. This isn’t the type of inflammation from an insect bite or a skin allergy; it’s the constant low-level inflammation caused by your immune system reacting to things like environmental chemicals, processed foods and even stress itself.
Your gut is often called your second brain, and both were formed from the same tissue when you were an embryo. More serotonin is manufactured in your gut than in your brain.
Your gut health has a huge influence on inflammation, too. If you suffer from depression and mood problems your intestinal lining may have become too permeable, allowing toxins through which shouldn’t be able to access your bloodstream. Your immune system then has to work overtime to neutralise these substances before they can cause harm, creating inflammation in the process.
Practical Suggestions for Beating Blue Monday Gloom
- Get outside if you can. Exposure to natural light boosts serotonin production and helps you sleep better.
- Don’t neglect exercise – it can be really hard to persuade yourself to exercise when you’re feeling low, but try to remember the energised, contented feeling you have after exercising, and use it as motivation. Congratulate yourself when you do exercise, even if it’s only for a short period because exercise is positively connected with good mental health.
- Connection with others can be a great mood booster. People with a social support network not only suffer less frequently from depression but also have lower levels of inflammation.Right now you need to be creative about connecting. Why not host an anti-Blue Monday virtual party, an online quiz or fundraising event?
- Avoid sugar! Even though it may make you feel good in the short term, sugar can suppress BDNF as well as encouraging chronic inflammation.
- Don’t neglect protein, the raw material you need to manufacture brain chemicals. Foods rich in tryptophan including avocado, chicken, eggs, turkey, pumpkin and sesame seeds enable serotonin to be made, while tyrosine from chicken, fish and almonds forms the building blocks of dopamine.
- Environmental toxins like food additives, pollutants, pesticides and heavy metals can irritate and damage brain cell receptors, so switch to natural personal care and cleaning products, and eat organic when you can.
- Certain nutrients are needed to make and use brain chemicals, including magnesium, vitamin D, Omega 3 and B vitamins. The herb Ashwagandha can support your stress glands, while turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory. Harness the positive power of blue by enjoying blueberries and blackcurrants, both brimming with natural plant nutrients.
Support Your Mood with Functional Medicine
If you’re feeling low, it can be hard to make positive changes. I can help by discovering the causes of your low mood. Functional testing can detect any nutrient deficiencies as well as find out whether your stress or thyroid hormones are out of balance, both of which play a role in healthy mood.
Strategies for naturally improving mood include replacing depleted nutrients, supporting gut health and reducing inflammation.