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Mental Health

Low Serotonin Is To Blame For Your Winter Hibernation Blues — To Boost Levels, Do These 6 Things

Keep the blues at bay.


Winter is a difficult time for many. The chill in the air keeps us huddled up indoors, and the sun setting early in the afternoon makes life a little darker (literally). These factors can have an impact on the levels of our feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. And low levels of serotonin can leaving us feeling tired, depressed, irritable, and craving carbs. But you deserve to feel good while waiting out the winter. Good news: There are some easy, natural ways to bring the blue sky back into your day, even if the clouds above are cold and gray. Check out these six tricks to boost serotonin and feel great all winter.

Restore energy with a splash of yellow.

Chilly temperatures and gray skies dial down the production of mood-steadying serotonin —and as serotonin levels drop, so does your stamina. That’s because deficiency of this important chemical can cause poor sleep and chronic fatigue. To restore your energy, try surrounding yourself with cheery pops of yellow — put happy yellow pillows in a room you frequent or don a yellow shirt or scarf. Some color psychologists claim that yellow represents positivity and joy, and that the brain may release more serotonin as a result.

Tame anxiety with the scent of vanilla.

The sweet aroma of vanilla (think: the smell of cupcakes fresh out of the oven) may reduce anxiety. In a 2015 animal study, rats’ serotonin and dopamine levels were raised after smelling vanillin, an aromatic compound found in vanilla. When the aromatic compounds in vanilla stimulate the olfactory nerve in your nose, that nerve messages your brain to ramp up serotonin release. Tip: Taking slow, deep sniffs of vanilla extract or vanilla essential oil might also do the trick.

Strengthen immunity by having fun with friends.

To ward off sickness, take daily “happy breaks” with loved ones, like playing board games that will make you chuckle. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University say those with a positive emotional style — in other words, those who are typically calm, joyful people — may have a lower risk of infection that those with a negative emotional style. Regularly doing certain activities, like laughing, spending time with loved ones, getting a massage, or cuddling can boost the feel-good hormone, which, in turn, may boost immunity.

Cut cravings with saffron.

Serotonin shortfalls may increase the likelihood of unhealthy snack cravings. But a study in Nutrition Research suggested that a daily saffron consumption could curb those cravings, helping you maintain a healthy weight, as compounds in the spice may regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Don’t like saffron? You can get the perks in a supplement, like NAOMI Saffron Hunger Control (Buy from NAOMI, $39).

End irritability by starting seedlings.

Doing a bit of indoor gardening — whether you plant some basil and tomato seeds or repot a root-bound philodendron — tames tension and irritability, and doing it regularly can make you feel calm, peaceful, and positive, suggests a study published in the journal Sustainability. In another study, researchers found that people stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic had lower depressive and anxiety symptoms when they frequently engaged with greenery, indoors and out. Some research suggests that exposure to a certain bacteria in soil may even trigger the release of serotonin.

Cure mental burnout by peeking at Pinterest.

If February blahs are derailing your can-do energy, try scrolling through Pinterest and daydreaming about fun crafts, recipes, or hobbies you’d love to try. In 2018, scientists said deliberate, brief brain breaks like this can boost creativity. So schedule some time in your day to get lost in your imagination — it’s more productive than you think.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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