Is anyone else feeling the February blahs? It’s not uncommon to battle the blues mid-winter, so I thought I’d offer up some February blahs busters, as well as invite you to contribute yours. You won’t be surprised that they are related to diet and exercise. But that’s not only because of my profession (and passion). It’s because they truly work.
I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Stutz, made by actor Jonah Hill about his therapist, Phil Stutz. He wanted the wider world, particularly those who did not have access to therapy themselves, to have the tools that Dr. Stutz gave him to manage his own mental health issues. The first thing Dr. Stutz asks people to do is work on connecting with their Life Force. He represented this as a pyramid of three layers of relationships: with the physical body, with other people and with yourself.
The first layer of this is to get your physical body working, in terms of proper diet, exercise and sleep. What really caught my attention was Stutz saying that improving these three things can account for 85% of the initial improvements in mental health. I repeat, 85%! And what is so empowering about this is that beneficial changes in these areas are well within our grasp.
Below are some of my favourite February blahs busters in each area. They may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how few people actually do them. And I invite you to add your favourite February blahs busters to the blog comments.
Make your own mood-boosting treats
First off, make your own food as much as possible. My blog post Eat Anything You Want. Just Cook it Yourself explains why this is so important. Homemade food will support your life force far better than anything industrially prepared, which is usually made with poor quality ingredients and optimized for shelf life not nutrition. If pressed for time, something as simple as eggs and spinach on good quality toasted bread topped with salsa and/or grated cheese is fine. And it is far more nutritious and just as fast as takeout pizza. Not having enough time is an issue for many when it comes to cooking, so here are my Top 10 Time-Savers in the Kitchen. And if you join The Nutritional Reset community, you’ll regularly receive nutritious yet fast, simple and tasty recipes.
One thing we tend to do when we are feeling the blues is reach for comfort foods and treats, especially sugary ones. We know we are going to do this so why not mitigate the damage by making our own mood-boosting treats instead? It only requires a small investment of time and a little goes a long way. These are far more satisfying than commercial sugary treats, so a small portion is all you need. You’ll feel energized, rather than bloated, and you won’t experience that sugar rush that leads to a crash shortly thereafter, making you feel more blah than you did originally. Not only that, you will sidestep those unwelcome pangs of guilt or remorse that can arise when you splurge out on something you really wish you hadn’t.
Here are a few homemade comfort food treats I’ve enjoyed recently:
- Maca Chocolate Hazelnut Freezer Fudge – This yummy treat from the Joyous Health blog (pictured above, and that’s actually 4 servings, by the way) features mood-boosting cacao. And, seriously, when has chocolate ever not made us feel better? Cacao contains numerous nutrients that help stimulate the brain’s production and release of feel-good hormones such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. There is also maca root in this fudge, which lends a malty flavour. Maca (also known as Peruvian Ginseng) may improve the symptoms of menopause, especially those related to mood (such as anxiety and depression), though we need more research to confirm its effectiveness. As an added bonus, a small amount of research suggests maca can increase libido. If you don’t have powdered maca root, however, this fudge is just as delicious without it.
- Pressure Cooker Chocolate Steel Cut Oats – These are high in fiber, which helps to balance blood sugar and feeds gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids that can decrease anxiety. Top these oats with some extra cacao in the form of nibs (yes, chocolate again!) and sliced bananas which are rich in vitamin B6 (read on for more about this vitamin). And I recommend you sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on as well. These are magnesium powerhouses and studies suggest adequate magnesium intake can calm stress, improve mood and enhance sleep. There is nothing like a steaming bowl of porridge on a cold winter’s day. Make a bigger batch as these oats will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge. A small amount makes a great snack too for replenishing your carbohydrate stores after a workout.
- Coconut Chickpea Blondies – Chickpeas are one of the richest sources of vitamin B6. Women who consume more vitamin B6 are less likely to experience anxiety. And vitamin B6 has been shown to be effective when combined with magnesium in adults with severe stress. And guess what? Chickpeas are high in magnesium too! As is chocolate, so feel free to add some dark chocolate chips to these if you like. But then you can’t call them blondies anymore. 😉
Any and all exercise helps mood and if going to the gym is your jam, I’m all for it. But be sure to also include some time outdoors because it exposes us to more natural light, which is far brighter than indoor light, even on a cloudy day. Shortly after dawn, natural light is fifty times brighter than indoor light. So being outside as early as possible (preferably before 10 a.m.) helps to set your body clock and improve sleep. Take a brisk walk for 15 minutes or more outdoors first thing whenever possible (maybe walk to your gym) and see how much better your day goes!
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of running, which also happens to be excellent for mental health (this article explains more). I like it because you can do it anytime, anywhere and with minimal equipment. Winter just requires more layering and shoes with better traction. I can’t believe I used to walk over to a gym to run on a treadmill in winter. But COVID and the gym closures forced me outside and now I’d never run inside on a treadmill again. Nothing beats running outside. All that fresh air and light always brightens my mood and busts any February blahs. And I am far more productive afterward than if I spend my mornings indoors from the get go.
Even on a rainy or snowy day I’ll head outside. As a wise person said, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate attire. Okay, sometimes there really is bad weather (you won’t catch me out in freezing rain or when it’s much colder than -15C) but those days tend to be rare (in Toronto anyway). Just try it and see…you don’t need a destination and you can walk, not run. Plug into a podcast or your favourite playlist if that helps motivate you to get outdoors.
Go to bed earlier
We are wired to sleep longer in winter and research has shown we require more rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep in winter too. The proportion of sleep which is REM sleep becomes greater as the night goes on. So truncating our overall sleep time generally reduces the amount of REM sleep we experience. Also, if we stay up later than we should, we risk getting that “second wind”. This makes it harder to fall asleep even when we are bone-tired.
Admittedly, we can’t usually sleep in as long as we wish given our daily schedules. But most of us can likely turn in half an hour earlier than we currently do. As fascinating as shows on Netflix can be, we don’t need to binge watch. That next episode will still be there tomorrow night. So do yourself a favour and set a timer to remind you to head to bed half an hour earlier. Curl up in bed under warm covers in a cool room with a nice book. You’ll thank yourself the next morning! I always feel on top of the world on days when I wake up well-rested and full of energy!
Finally, if you share your bed, consider separate duvets/comforters. This recent investment has done my sleep (and my marriage) a world of good. 😉
So now you know my favourite February blahs busters. What are yours? Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.