Can you guess which was the most common reaction from people after finding out that I was moving from LA to NYC?
A) “Oh great! NYC is the best city in the world!”
B) “Good for you! If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!”
C) “Good luck during winter.”
If you guessed A or B, you probably spend November through March near the equator because NO ONE WHO LIVES UP NORTH WOULD HAVE GUESSED A OR B!!
Sorry, I don’t mean to yell, but the FREEZING COLD has me Paris Gellar-cranky.
Everyone was right, winter is tough. But I didn’t listen to them because I love grey skies, rainy weather, cozy sweaters, and most importantly, New York City. A few cold months were not going to stop me from chasing my dreams! “I am stronger than seasonal affective disorder!” I convinced myself. “Winter can not–WILL NOT–bring down!”
And it didn’t….for the first two months of winter. But by February, the lack of sunshine, layers upon layers of clothes, and the seemingly never-ending cold had me feeling really down and I was forced to take cultivating happiness more seriously.
Happiness is not generally thought of as something that needs to be worked on…you’re either happy or you’re not, right?
Wrong. (<—click this, I’ll wait.)
I realized that I would have to make quite a few changes in order to get out of this winter-induced funk, the most important of which would be to my diet. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made it priority to consume foods that help fight depression and it is already paying off.
Here’s what I’ve been eating and why:
Oranges are, of course, a good source of vitamin C but they are also a good source of B vitamins including folate and pantothenic acid. B vitamins are sometimes referred to as “energy vitamins” because they give you a natural boost of energy, which can help you feel motivated and ready to tackle yet another freezing day.
PS. These Cara Cara oranges are my favorite! I discovered them about a year ago. They’re darker in color, and a little sweeter, than regular oranges. Have you ever tried them?
My go-to pick me up used to be coffee, but one can only drink so much caffeine before turning into a jittery mess. Instead, I reach for fruits like kiwis because in addition to being full of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C, they look, taste, and smell vibrant. I don’t think smelling a fruit has scientifically proven affects on a bad mood, but I find that it really helps me feel refreshed and energized, even if just for a moment.
Avocados are one my favorite foods so it wasn’t hard to incorporate more of them into my diet. But after learning that in addition to the good fats avocados are famous for, they also contain folate, potassium, and vitamin K, I started eating them serval times a week.
Low potassium levels have been linked to mental fatigue and difficulty concentrating which can make an already bad mood worse. The fats in avocados also help your body absorb the vitamins in other foods, especially vitamins A and C.
Easy way to add avocados to your breakfast: make a mushroom and cheddar omelet and top it with sliced avocado and fresh salsa. The salsa has lycopene, and vitamins A and C. Mushrooms add vitamin D and the cheese adds calcium (which isn’t tequincally a vitamin but definitely contributes to an overall feeling of happiness.)
4. Greek Yogurt
Speaking of calcium, did you know that a lack of calcium can actually make you feel depressed? According to Rodalenews.com “Disturbances in calcium levels can produce anxiety, depression, irritability, impaired memory, and slow thinking,”
I like to eat Greek yogurt–which is extremely high in protein, calcium, and probiotics–with berries, granola, cinnamon, and a touch of honey OR as a substitute for sour cream on my Mexican omelet!
This curried vegetable soup was my lunch today. I made a huge pot of this spicy soup two days ago so I would have something quick and healthy on hand. Spices may also have some happiness boosting properties, especially when paired with all of these vitamin-rich veggies. Since this is a spicy soup, I like to top it with a few tablespoons of Greek yogurt to tone down down the heat and add a little extra protein and calcium. It’s also really good with a few slices of avocado!
Asparagus has a ton of health benefits, but it’s ability to boost serotonin levels is the main reason I began incorporating it into my diet as much as possible. Asparagus also contains folate which may help prevent homocysteine from slowing down the production of serotonin.
My favorite way to prepare asparagus is to drizzle the stalks with olive oil, season with an all purpose seasoning that contains salt, pepper, Italian herbs, garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes, then roast it in a 350 degree oven. After a few minutes, the asparagus is bright green and ready to eat!
A squeeze of lemon on top adds additional flavor and additional vitamin C! (Am I the only one who feels like this is a game? Am I getting points for all of these added vitamins??)
6. Mushrooms, salmon, or anything containing Vitamin D (like gummy vitamins!)
Vitamin D is REALLY IMPORTANT in the winter because we’re not exposed to as much sun. Because of this, it’s important to consume foods that are rich in Vitamin D like mushrooms and salmon, but I also make sure to take a multivitamin with 100% of the daily recommended value. This addition alone has made A GIGANTIC difference in my overall happiness recently! Plus, taking two little gummies everyday is kind of like eating candy, which also makes me happy.
7. A really BIG Cookie
And finally, one of the most beloved happiness-boosting foods of all, the chocolate chip cookie! While over doing it on sugar can actually have a negative effect on your mood, a moderate amount of something really delicious can do wonders.
The world–especially during the winter–can be tough, so treat yourself to something you really enjoy and savor every bite. This is not a time to be worried about your waistline–no one ever got fat from one cookie– and regretting it will cancel out all of the hard work you did for your happiness by eating the cookie! So let your inner child delight in a sweet treat!
Keep in mind, there is a huge difference between treating yourself to a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie and mindlessly eating an entire box of Chips Ahoy. In addition to being unhealthy, binging can perpetuate feelings of depression. To avoid this, I try to keep sweets out of the house and indulge only on special occasions with friends. Invite a friend to your favorite bakery and share something sweet. Not only will you be indulging in a delicious dessert, but the quality time spent with your bestie can help boost your mood as well. Two birds, one cookie. Sorry, bad joke.
If any of you are struggling this winter, try adding a few of these foods into your diet. It doesn’t happen over night but you will start to feel better soon!
What do you do to beat the winter blues? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @missvranhalen