They say this is the most wonderful time of the year, but for those of us who struggle with seasonal mood fluctuations, it often isn’t. I always try to make an effort to enter this season on the offense, instead of playing defense.
Here are five things that could be triggering anxiety and mood instability over the holiday season. The beauty of these things is that each one of them impact the other, because so many of these important processes are connected.
Poor sleep – Sleep deprivation leads to heightened activity in the amygdala (your fear brain) and decreases the function of the prefrontal cortex. With lack of restful sleep we become reactionary and it makes it difficult to make good decisions. Listen to your circadian rhythm this season, and choose to go to bed an hour earlier. That can make all the difference in the world for your brain. Cut the electronics an hour before bed or at least wear blue light blocking glasses, because blue light blocks melatonin, which we need for restful sleep.
Sugar consumption – Loading up on refined carbs and sugary drinks and not enough fiber to balance it out will create a blood sugar roller coaster. Often times blood sugar fluctuations can look like panic attacks, and we don’t want that. One tip? Try to get five different vegetables in each day, or start adding chia seeds and flax seeds into salads, oatmeal or smoothies to up that fiber content a bit. Be picky about where you want to get your sugar. Are you eating it because you love it, or just because it’s there? If you have to choose between dessert or a sugary adult beverage, just pick one.
Low Vitamin D – Get some sunshine when you can! Many of us, myself included, struggle to absorb Vitamin D so supplementation plus a daily boost of sunshine can be helpful. A post-meal walk at breakfast and/or lunchtime not only provides that boost on sunny days, but it energizes your mitochondria, prepares your body for better sleep at night, and it supports a healthy glucose metabolism – see how this is all connected?
Lack of protein or inability to digest it – If we aren’t getting and digesting amino acids from protein, we can’t build our neurotransmitters. We NEED protein to give our bodies serotonin and dopamine. Try to get the majority of your protein the first part of the day. Bonus – it is the most satiating macronutrient so it can help beat those sugar cravings as well. Optimizing digestion is one of my favorite topics. Slowing down and chewing your food goes a long way. Most of us don’t chew enough, and if you think about it – that’s the only part of digestion we can actually control for the most part. So take your time and chew your food!
Unresolved trauma or grief – This is a huge one. Many of us have lost loved ones over the course of this year, or we are triggered by old wounds. There’s a popular saying that the body keeps the score. Anxiety, depression, and grief doesn’t just stay in your head. Your whole body is impacted. This is why I’m so fortunate that I get to partner with some amazing trauma therapists at Living Well. Of course I’m biased to Living Well, but there are so many good counselors out there, so if you’re looking for someone specific for you or a family member, reach out! I’d love to help you find someone to walk you through this time.
I could make this list longer, including items like artificial sweeteners, overscheduling, overexercising, food sensitivities, mineral deficiencies, and more… but the point is to not add any more stress to such a busy season, right?
As always, if you have any questions or need more support, contact me. Let’s partner together to create happy, healthy brains and bodies!