Herbal columnist Nicola Parker writes about getting more Vitamin D and L-5HTP to boost your mood.
January is considered to be the most depressing month of the year.
Famous for “Blue Monday” - the third Monday into the new year - the January blues are also associated with a genuine medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
A number of factors can cause low mood around this time of year and personal circumstances may play a large part.
January is one of the darkest and coldest months of the year, but unlike December, there are no twinkling lights, social festivities and feasting with the family to look forward to.
Instead, we are more likely to be faced with financial struggles, less indulgent foods, coughs, colds and tummy bugs that lurk after a stressful festive season.
It feels like a long month and February only promises more winter to follow.
Our New Year positivity can soon fade when we realise we’re in the deepest part of winter.
My personal belief is that January should be a time for self care.
Historically, food would be more scarce at this time of year and due to the low light levels, our ability to hunt, farm and forage would be compromised, leading to shorter work days and more time spent indoors, resting.
The darker nights mean we’re exposed to less sunlight which affects our production of melatonin and serotonin.
Melatonin makes us feel sleepy and serotonin regulates our mood, appetite and sleep quality.
When these things are out of balance, it can lead us to feelings of low mood and depression.
In our modern world, our hours don’t change with the seasons, so we need to take extra care of ourselves during these darker months.
Anything that gives us an endorphin boost can help us battle SAD and the January blues.
Spend time with people you love and avoid isolating yourself for periods that last too long.
Get as much natural sunlight as you can, ideally while exercising, for an extra boost of feel good hormones.
Although you may feel sleepy, getting outdoors to exercise can lift our energy, rather than deplete it.
It would be a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked, which can be done through your GP or by sending away for a private test.
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with low mood and depleted immunity and our main source of this vital nutrient is sunshine.
If you’re finding your mood unmanageable around this time of year, your doctor may offer you antidepressant medication but not everyone feels comfortable turning to medication for a temporary problem.
If you know that your SAD or low mood usually lifts by February-March, you may be tempted to just push through.
I know that for me this is certainly the case.
This year more than any other, I’m sleeping poorly and finding it difficult to motivate myself in the mornings.
I spend a substantial portion of my day looking forward to bedtime and my interest in exercise has plummeted.
As someone who is usually excited to face the day, I find these new feelings uncharacteristic and worrying, so I’ve decided to do something about it.
For many people, antidepressants can be vital, but I don’t quite feel like they are necessary for me.
Instead, I’m turning to my usual herbs for a short term boost until the days get lighter.
L-5HTP may sound like a licence plate or postcode but it’s actually an amino acid that helps the brain regulate melatonin and serotonin levels.
Known affectionately by some of our older customers as “postcode pills” this is certainly the time of year to bring them out.
When taking L-5HTP, I don’t usually realise they’ve been effective until I start forgetting to take them.
One I’ll notice the forgotten bottle on the counter top and realise that I’m back to my usual exercise routine, that I went out walking with friends at the weekend and that I no longer spend my days yawning and feeling sad.
I like to think of them as “banishing the mope” that lurks around our January days, threatening to suck all the joy from everything.
For more information on this or other subjects in Nicola’s writings, contact her at her clinic Health and Herbs in Pedder Street, Morecambe, on 01524 413733.