Metaphysical author Christian D. Larsen once said, “Look at the sunny side of everything,” but that can be tricky when the skies turn grey during the worst days of winter, and sunlight is hard to come by.
Sunshine, like oxygen, is vital for maintaining an overall sense of happiness and wellbeing. For those working a nine to five in the winter thought, the dark days of winter can be tough.
Sunlight becomes just a little more precious every day after June 21 because, after the longest day of the year, daylight hours become shorter until suddenly you find yourself heading into work before the sun comes up and leaving the office after the sun has set.
This serious lack of sunlight can result in a range of health issues, including an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Winter also brings with it potential sleep problems and other health issues including vitamin D deficiency, which can amplify the risk factors for osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Sun exposure is vital to health, says Michael F. Holick, MD, of the Boston University School of Medicine, who said that exposure to sunlight reduces the risk factors for developing diabetes, multiple sclerosis, infectious diseases, and SAD.
Causes of SAD
Highlighted below are some of the symptoms of SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Feelings of depression on a daily basis
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Low energy levels
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling easily irritated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness
There are two components that play a role in the development of SAD, experts say. During the winter months, both serotonin and vitamin D are in shorter supply.
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Serotonin is synthesized in the brain and relays messages from one part of the brain to another. It influences most of the brain’s 40 million cells, but most importantly, it affects brain cells that influence mood.
Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when skin is exposed to the sun. It is also available in some foods, but more than 80% of Americans don’t receive sufficient vitamin D through diet. That’s according to a 2011 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and it’s unlikely things have changed much since then. This means exposure to the sun and proper supplementation are pretty important ways of getting the right amount of vitamin D without dietary changes. 1
Here Comes the Sun
To help ease sadness when the skies are grey, carrying MONQ’s personal aromatherapy diffuser Happy can help. It features a blend of fennel, thyme, caraway, clary sage, marjoram, parsley seed, as well as the citrus oils mandarin green and petitgrain (bitter orange).
Citrus oils offer the benefits of two compounds—myrcene and linalool—which work in synergy to ease anxiety and boost mood. They work by interacting with dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters in the brain that influence feelings of well-being. Happy also includes lavender, used almost universally to promote relaxation, which can be disrupted when there is no exposure to the sun. This combination of oils, each of which addresses mood issues in a different way, can be an excellent way to repel negative thoughts and bring on a sunnier spirit, despite the lack of sunshine. 2
Forest MONQ also offers mood-boosting essential oils. These include black spruce, Douglas fir, juniper leaf, and Scotch pine, along with other essential oils that create the sensation of being in a forest, even if you can’t get outdoors. Other oils in Forest include bergamot (one of the most effective mood-boosting essential oils), rosemary, spearmint, and wild orange. 3
Essential Oils for Boosting Mood
For many people, a lack of sunlight causes a serious blue mood. There are some essential oils that are among the most popular for helping increase levels of happiness.
Bergamot Essential Oil
There have been several studies about the effects of the sunny citrus fruit bergamot—the Italian citrus oil that gives Earl Grey tea its flavor and aroma—on stress and anxiety. The research includes a 2010 study in Phytotherapy Research that found that bergamot lowered levels of the stress hormone corticosterone. 4
Another study from 2017 in the same journal found that bergamot helped reduce stress levels in those waiting for appointments at mental health centers. 5 A 2015 study from Complementary Medicine Research found that bergamot reduced cortisol levels in women.
Cortisol—the body’s fight-or-flight hormone—not only elevates feelings of stress, but it also boosts blood glucose levels, which when at a constant high can lead to a host of health issues including type II diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. 6
Lemon Essential Oil
A 2010 study from the Journal of Functional Foods found that lemon essential oil helped elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine in mice. Researchers from Taiwan and Rutgers University conducted the study, which suggests that compounds in lemon oil could offer similar benefits to humans. 7
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is included in Happy MONQ because lavender contains linalool, which interacts with the neurotransmitter serotonin, creating what researchers from three countries referred to as an antidepressant-like effect. 8
Clary Sage Essential Oil
In 2014, researchers in Korea found that the scent of clary sage essential oil not only helped reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but it also elevated levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. 9
Orange Essential Oil
Like sunshine in a bottle, many citrus oils help boost serotonin levels. Orange contains myrcene, which boosts levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain because its molecules are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, so they can reach the hippocampus, which is where these neurotransmitters are most active.
Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil
Elements of ylang-ylang, a lovely floral scent that is the key ingredient in the classic perfume Chanel No. 5 help maintain healthy blood pressure and slow breathing, making it an excellent go-to for easing stress and helping boost mood. A 2006 study from Thai researchers that appeared in Phytotherapy Research suggested that ylang-ylang helps reduce anxiety. 10
Peppermint Essential Oil
Not only does peppermint help boost energy—a wonderful effect when the blues make it difficult to get motivated—it also helps boost mood.
The Sense of Smell Institute found that peppermint helped relieve feelings of sadness, which are commonplace when SAD settles in.
A 2008 study from researchers in the U.K. in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that exposure to peppermint oil enhanced mood and memory while increasing alertness. 11
Jasmine Essential Oil
It may take a few different tries to find the right essential oil or blend to help ease your winter blues. While you experiment, remember that on a cold winter night, when falling snow turns tree branches white and the whole scene is illuminated by the stars shimmering in the sky, there is a beauty to be found. That, in its simplicity, can bring on a sunnier disposition.
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