How to Combat the Winter Blues
I lived in South Dakota for almost 6 years, and the winters there really rocked my world. Having only lived in California, I never spent much time in the snow prior, so learning how to live(and drive) in it was going to be a huge, new task for me. On top of acclimating to the snow, I also had to deal with the loss of sunlight once Daylight Savings came along in November. No matter where I lived though, the Winter Blues always made it’s yearly visit to me. I knew that my first winter there I was going to have to actively come up with ways to make it more manageable.
First, let’s discuss what Winter Blues is and the symptoms that come along with it.
“Winter Blues a non-medical diagnosis, characterized by feelings of depression or deep unhappiness associated with experiencing the cold and darkness of winter.”
Some symptoms may include: feelings of sadness, low energy, restlessness, & lack of motivation to complete some tasks, but are still able to handle major tasks such as going to work and taking care of the house.
After some research and conversations with folks in my community, I came to find 6 helpful tips to combat the Winter Blues:
1. Re-decorate your space
With it being cold outside and the sun going down earlier in the day, you’ll most likely be spending more time inside your home. This is the perfect time to make your home as cozy and sacred as you can. Nothing is better than coming home to a place that is clean and arranged as you would like. You can do this with or without having to buy new things. Even just re-arranging your furniture in each room, or the one you spend the most time in, can make a big difference!
2. Plan time with friends and loved ones
Staying consistent with planning time with friends and loved ones can help immensely. If distance is a factor, thank goodness for technology; you can still set up weekly phone/Facetime calls. Connection is so important even when we feel like hibernating from the world.
3. Eat Well
It’s so easy to overeat and/or eat “unhealthy” during this time of the year- the holidays bring so many comfort food opportunities! And yes, please indulge when you’d like, but continuing a healthy diet throughout the winter makes a huge difference. And since you will be home more, this is a great opportunity to learn new winter recipes. There are many serotonin boosting foods we can incorporate into our daily meals that will help stabilize our mood throughout the day. (Read our Serotonin Boosting Recipes Blog!)
4. Start a new hobby or pick one back up
One of my favorite hobbies is beading, but during the spring and summer, I’m not wanting to do it as much because I’d rather be moving around outside. So in the winter I really indulge in it, because it’s a perfect hobby to do inside. Other good winter hobbies could include knitting, reading, doing puzzles, playing board games, journaling, yoga, or binge watching a show or two. No shame in your hobby game!
5. Get your daily Vitamin D each day through sunlight, food, and supplements
It is said that about 1 billion people in the world are Vitamin D deficient. A 2013 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked at research involving a total of 31,424 people and found that having low levels of vitamin D increased the risk for depression.
About 50% to 90% of Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin via sunlight while the rest comes from the diet. Twenty minutes of sunshine daily with over 40% of skin exposed is required to prevent Vitamin D deficiency.
If you have a spot in your house that gets good lighting, put a chair, rug, or pillow in that spot and sit there for as long as you like. You can stretch, read, or do any other activity to increase your time in that sunspot. If you can also do this at your place of work as well, that’s even better!
Nowadays there are sun lamps/lights that folks can purchase and set up in their house if they are unable to get natural sunlight throughout the day. You sit directly in front of the light for the recommended time, and boom, you got your daily recommended Vitamin D for the day!
And of course, another way to get Vitamin D is from the foods you eat and/or supplements. Supplementing your Vitamin D daily ensures you get your Vitamin D, whether or not you can get sunlight during the day.
6. Hug friends, family, and/or pets more
Physical contact stimulates the brain to produce more serotonin, dopamine, & oxytocin, hormones that play an important role to our well-beings. So hug a loved one, pets included! (My dream is to book an hour-long session at the Gentle Barn, in Southern California where I can hug and meditate with a cow and other farm animals. Just thinking about this is giving me a serotonin boost!)
Hugs are free and you can do it for as long as you’d like! It is recommended to hug for at least 30 seconds.
Deepen your practice with Hugging Meditation.
Let’s be clear though, Winter Blues should not get confused with S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of clinical depression that is a more severe experience of winter blues. If you find it difficult to maintain relationships, complete work, or manage daily tasks, please reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for help.
We’ve already made it past the shortest day of the year, so it’s only up from here!
5 Serotonin Boosting Recipes
During the winter time, the lack of sun and overwhelm from the holidays are just some of the many contributors to imbalanced serotonin levels, our happy hormone. One effective way we can increase our serotonin is through our diet. Foods don’t have serotonin in them, but foods do have Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in many protein-based foods and dietary proteins including meats, dairy, fruits, and seeds. It is a precursor of serotonin synthesis but must be obtained through diet because it cannot be synthesized by the body. In other words, tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain, but that must be achieved through the diet.
The recommended daily intake for Tryptophan is 280 mg.
Below are 5 Serotonin Boosting Recipes that are quick, easy to prepare, and high in Tryptophan. Use these recipes anytime you are needing a boost to your serotonin levels. Recipes can be adjusted based on your dietary preference.
The Sunshine Smoothie (Vegan)
1/2 cup Blueberries
1 ripe Banana
1-2 handful of leafy greens(spinach and/or kale)
½ -1 cup Soy milk (dependent on preference of thickness)
1 tbsp. Almond Butter
1 tbsp. of Pumpkin Seeds
1 tsp Hemp seeds
½ tsp Flax meal
¼ tsp Spirulina
Add the leafy greens and blueberries to a blender and blend for 10 seconds. (Blending up the greens first allows them to break up more.)
Add remaining ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.
*Optional: add ice to get a cold, crunchy-textured smoothie.
3 Mixed Nuts
1 cup-Pistachio Nuts
1. Combine all nuts in one bowl and mix.
Keep in an airtight container/jar
*Optional: Chop up walnuts and halve the almonds beforehand.
Salmon Quinoa Bowl (Dairy and Gluten Free)
3-4 oz Wild-caught Salmon (cooked to your preference)
1 large Egg (with yolk)
1 cup cooked Tri-blend Quinoa
1-2 handful of Leafy Greens (spinach and/or kale)
¼ cup Cooked Edamame
¼ cup chopped Almonds & Walnuts
1. Prepare the quinoa over the stove or in rice cooker.
2. Prepare your Edamame while the quinoa cooks.
3. Coat the salmon with an oil, then bake in the oven 400 °F for 9-12 minutes.
4. Cook your egg to your liking (hard-boiled is my preference for this recipe).
5. Chop up almonds and walnuts and slice up the avocado.
6. Once everything has cooked, make a bed of quinoa at the bottom of a bowl.
7. Add the salmon, edamame, leafy greens, and egg.
8. Top with the avocado and chopped almonds and walnuts.
1 ¼ cup cooked Edamame
½ cup low or Zero-Fat Yogurt
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 tsp Sesame Oil
1/2 tsp Chili Powder (optional)
Handful chopped Cilantro
A pinch of salt and pepper
1. Simply blend all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. If the dip is too thick, you can add more yogurt to get the consistency you like, but it should be coarse, not smooth. Use it as a dip or serve on toast!
Lentil & vegetable Stew (Vegan)
1 pound of Lentils, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 chopped Onion
2 chopped Carrots
2 chopped stalks of Celery
1 chopped bunch of Kale, with ribs removed
1 chopped Sweet Potato
1 tbsp of Nutritional Yeast
8 cups of Vegetable Broth
2 tbsp of Avocado Oil
Chopped Parsley for garnish
1. In a large pot, warm up the oil over medium heat, and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and sauté the ingredients until soft and brown.
2. Add in the lentils, vegetable broth, kale, sweet potato, and nutritional yeast. Bring to a slight boil, stirring now and then to mix in the kale.
3. Lower the heat to medium-low, then cover, leaving the lid ajar. Simmer the stew, stirring as needed, until lentils become tender.
4. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Find all of these ingredients at the Co-op!
Elderberries: The New Face of California Hedgerows
The practice of growing hedgerows stems from all the way back to the Medieval times of England and Ireland.
Hedgerows can increase the beauty, productivity, and biodiversity of a property and are especially beneficial for farms.
Modern day hedgerows are used as a field border to enhance the habitat value and productivity of farmland.
To date, the creation of hedgerows and other restored habitat areas on California farms remains low.
This is in part because of a lack of information and outreach that addresses the benefits of field edge habitat, and growers’ concerns about its effect on crop production and wildlife intrusion.
Native hedgerows on farm edges benefit wildlife, pest control, carbon storage and runoff, but hedgerow planting by farmers in California is limited, often due to establishment and maintenance costs.
Field studies in the Sacramento Valley highlighted that hedgerows can enhance pest control and pollination in crops, resulting in a return on investment within 7 to 16 years, without negatively impacting food safety.
What if hedgerows could provide a source of farm income, to offset costs AND benefit the local environment?
Currently the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) is collaborating with Cloverleaf Farm in Solano County and several other growers in the Central Valley and coastal counties to assess and develop the potential for elderberries to become a commercial specialty crop, with a focus on hedgerow-grown elderberry production and marketing for small- and mid-scale California farms.
UC Agriculture and Environment Academic Coordinator, Sonja Brodt believes that elderberries may be the intersection of sustainable farming, super nutrition, and economic viability.
At the 2019 Elderberry Field Day Sonja explained, “Elderberries may have the potential to combine crop production with environmental conservation functions in a way not typically seen on California farms. This model would enable small- and medium-scale farmers to receive a direct income from a farm practice that benefits the ecosystem as well.”
Farms like Cloverleaf use elder trees as hedgerows on their fields to increase habitat value and crop pollination while also making a profit on the side by selling elderberry products, such as jams, syrups, and flower cordials.
Additionally, with growing consumer interest in health foods, elderberry product sales nationwide have jumped 10-50% in recent years but almost no commercial supply originates in California.
The berries and flowers of elderberry are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system.
According to recent research, elderberries can help tame inflammation, lessen stress, and even help protect your heart!
There are about 30 types of elder plants and trees found around the world.
The European version (also known as Sambucus nigra) is the one most often used in health supplements, however, recent attention has been drawn to the California elderberry (Sambucus caerulea).
Cloverleaf Farm has been an active partner with SAREP by monitoring the success level of elderberries planted and comparing results between the California elderberry and the European elderberry.
So far their findings show that California elderberries have a greater success rate when grown in Mediterranean climates compared to the European elderberry and attract more native pollinators, which benefits the crop yields.
In addition the UC Davis Food Science and Technology department is currently working on a elderberry project, led by Katie Uhl, focusing on the bioactive components unique to California elderberries that can be beneficial for human health.
While a diversity of plant species makes for the most effective hedgerows, the California elderberry is proving itself to be a perfect foundation species as it provides excellent environmental habitat and great potential for profits by selling the berries as health food products!
You can find Cloverleaf Farm elderberry syrups here at the Davis Food Co-op, along with many other elderberry products in our Wellness department!
Written by Rheanna Smith, Education Specialist