Days are getting longer, but spring still feels a long way away. Months of cold temperatures, cloudy skies and limited physical activity can take a huge toll on our emotional and physical health. According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal fluctuations in sunlight can even change levels of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies, which can profoundly affect mood. Many of us experience the “winter blues” in Minnesota, and while we cannot control the weather, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms.
Head to a greenhouse
Take a respite from the cold and snow by enjoying the great outdoors indoors! Find your local greenhouse, peel off those layers and soak up some sun. Dr. Jean Larson, who specializes in nature-based therapies at the University of Minnesota, recommends spending 30 minutes a day in natural light to improve the symptoms of seasonal mood changes. In addition, being surrounded by living green plants can add an extra boost. Commit to practicing a little horticultural therapy by bringing home a few houseplants. Houseplants can also help improve indoor air quality, so you’ll breathe a little easier this winter.
Mind your nutritional ABCs
Our diets in the colder months can become more reliant on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. This can lead to general sluggishness as our stores of vitamins and minerals are depleted and our bodies and minds struggle to function without the basic nutritional building blocks.
Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods, especially vegetables, to help ward off the blues. You can purchase locally grown root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, from farmers at the Neighborhood Roots winter market. High in vitamin A, they can help your immune system fight off the common cold.
Pick up some mushrooms to get a dose of much needed vitamin D. To get the highest dose, try eating them raw or lightly sauteed. Cooking can decrease the level of nutritional vitamin D in mushrooms. Throw them in a salad with local leafy greens like spinach or baby kale to add vitamin C and calcium to the mix.
Help round out the alphabet with vitamin B from winter squash. Minnesota farmers grow a wide variety of squash, including butternut, acorn and spaghetti, which store well through the winter. Roast them in the oven with a little olive oil and then puree with some chicken stock and herbs for a delicious, nutritious and affordable soup to feed the whole family.
More than the blues?
While mild to moderate changes in mood are common, some people experience more severe symptoms. If you feel that it’s more than the winter blues, you could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, such as changes to your sleep or appetite or suicidal thoughts, you should see a doctor or visit Walk-In Counseling Center (walkin.org).
Neighborhood Roots indoor winter market
Where: Bachman’s Garden Center, 6010 Lyndale Ave.
When: 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14