‘Blue Monday’ falls on the third Monday of January (January 15, 2024) every year and is deemed the most depressing day of the year. The combination of cold weather, stretched finances, the post-holiday’s lull, dark days, and unattainable set resolutions is a cocktail for depression. But is it actually the saddest day of the year? In short – no.

The term ‘Blue Monday’ was originally used as a marketing ploy to get more people to travel in January. But what IS real is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it affects 0.5 to 3 percent of individuals in the general population; it affects 10 to 20 percent of people with major depressive disorder and about 25 percent of people with bipolar disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — seasonal affective disorder (SAD) begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. These symptoms often resolve during the spring and summer months.”

In Canada, we receive zero vitamin D from the sun from October through April. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to depression, low mood, and an increased likelihood of SAD. Vitamin D levels tend to be lower in the winter months when the condition is prevalent due to a lack of sunlight.

Other than supplementing with vitamin D (I would recommend 2000 IUs per day) there are other nutrition and lifestyle habits that can help prevent the winter blues:

  • Focusing on digestive health is a key factor for our mental health, including probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods daily;
  • Eating foods shown to improve cognitive health including blueberries, avocados, walnuts, dark chocolate and green tea;
  • Reaching for healthy fats including nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados and high fat Greek yogurt;
  • Opting for complex carbohydrates such as buckwheat, oatmeal, sweet potato and brown rice.

Getting adequate restful sleep, moving your body naturally every day and stress reduction activities also can help combat the affects of SAD.

In the world of nutrition, we often focus on the physical impact of food — its calories, nutrients, and health benefits. However, beneath the surface, there is a fascinating and intricate interplay between the foods we consume and our emotional well-being. The emerging field of nutritional psychiatry sheds light on the profound connection between diet and mood, revealing that what we put on our plates can significantly influence how we feel.

Our food choices have a direct influence on the chemicals produced by our brains. If your system struggles with certain foods, it will directly affect your mood. At the core of the intricate connection between diet and mood is the gut-brain axis — a communication system linking the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. The foods we eat have a significant influence on our gut microbiome and digestive system. Emerging research indicates that this microbial balance can impact mood-altering neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Simultaneously, managing blood sugar levels by incorporating meals with complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats prevents energy crashes, fostering emotional stability through a steady release of energy.

The food-mood connection helps us recognizing that food is not just fuel for the body; it’s a powerful influencer of our emotional state. For some, keeping a food journal is an invaluable tool that unveils patterns in eating habits that can be intimately tied to mental health. If this is something you are interested in, I would suggest you check out the Food Mood Journal here for added information, help and support.