We get it, dark days and long nights are kind of a bummer... which is why we've enlisted some help from professionals. Throughout November, we'll provide tips from experts in their fields. Today, we have naturopath Marisa Marciano on deck:
Our moods manifest through cascades of molecular currents. Neurotransmitters & hormones signal messages to cells which create our emotions and subjective experiences. The very same stimulus potentially presenting differently from one person to the next.
When problems arise, medications for anxiety & depression are prescribed to help orchestrate our brain’s signaling of those such as serotonin, GABA, and dopamine, which can be a great help in some cases when the darkness or unease feels impenetrable.
But there are a multitude of ways we can support our body’s innate ability to naturally produce more of our relaxation & “feel-good” neurotransmitters, and these are a few of my favs:
Exposure to natural light (even in the winter) is widely recognized as an effective approach to increasing serotonin without drugs. Humans demonstrate a clear interaction between bright light and the serotonin system. Bright light and Sun lamps are a worthwhile investment if you feel seasonal or premenstrual depression hit you especially hard. In addition, forest-bathing is all the rage right now for good reason. In Japan (and in my office), Doctors are known to prescribe Forest-time (shinrin yoku) to stressed & depressed patients, and there’s some solid research behind just how powerful this simple practice can be.
Embrace the Darkness (literally).
Invest in an eye mask or some industrial-grade black out curtains for your bedroom. Melatonin is a hormone produced from serotonin, and is secreted by the pineal gland in response to complete darkness. It helps lower cortisol activity throughout the night, and has been shown to have a multitude of other health benefits (i.e. anti-inflammatory & antioxidant) besides solely promoting a solid nights’ sleep. Without a doubt, a restful night’s sleep is crucial to how you’ll feel while functioning throughout your day.
St. John’ Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
is a local flowering plant who has been branded a “natural antidepressant”, which is true, but these lovely little yellow flowers are so much more. Naturally occurring pigments found in aerial parts have been shown to inhibit enzymes responsible for breaking down serotonin, while inhibiting it’s reuptake at neural synapses, an extremely similar mechanism as is found in most medications for depression & anxiety. But this plant is no drug. Chemically it’s much more similar to a food, and I use it whenever I feel the nervous system is in need of soul-strengthening support.
Having the building blocks for neurotransmitters, and also the co-factors (e.g. vitamins & minerals) necessary to convert your food into your chemical feelings is key. Basics include quality protein intake from nuts, seeds, legumes & grains and big ol’ plate of veggies. A good B-Complex can also be an excellent and inexpensive place to start. Amino acids such as tryptophan & tyrosine which are the starting points for serotonin & dopamine, may also be useful in some cases.
Talk to your health care provider before starting any supplementation to make sure it’s right for you, and ensure you feel like whichever treatment path you choose that it most importantly feels like it can be maintained.
Health is a continuum with inevitable ups and downs, but as long as the decisions which serve us feel both enjoyable and achievable, it only gets easier to trust the sun is always hiding behind the clouds.