This month we turn our lives to giving thanks. Thanksgiving offers the chance to reflect on and be grateful for all we are blessed with. Although we may have the best intentions to experience this season with openness and love, stress and seemingly countless errands can steal our goodwill and gratitude. So what can we do to stay positive and thankful at a time when we may be tempted by pessimism?
Keep a gratitude journal by your bed. Each morning reflect on one or two specific things that you are thankful for and write them down. Read your journal every night before going to sleep. One key is the brain's neurotransmitter serotonin, often referred to as the "good-mood hormone." When our bodies produce sufficient serotonin we feel happier and more balanced because this chemical promotes relaxation, restful sleep, and a sense of well-being.
Good mood foods
Unfortunately, some of the holiday's harsher habits—too much sugar and alcohol and too many fats—can lead to blood sugar imbalances. Overeating and indulging also can contribute to lack of motivation to exercise and to increased stress, resulting in reduced serotonin levels and the potential for a variety of health challenges, including depression.
It's easy to build and maintain your serotonin levels by adding many nutrient-rich foods to your diet. Consider the serotonin building block, tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in turkey, cottage cheese, salmon, oatmeal, cheese, whole wheat, yogurt, eggs, and chocolate. Combine these foods with whole-grain-based carbohydrates to maximize the body's absorption and assimilation of tryptophan. Round out your diet with omega-3-rich nuts and seeds, folate-rich crucifers, such as broccoli and brussels sprouts, and vitamin B12- and B6-rich fish, brans, and sea vegetables.
Make time to exercise
Consistent exercise is another way to uplift spirit during the holidays. In fact, exercise may be the most powerful of all our natural antidepressants. More than 100 clinical studies confirm the effectiveness of exercise in the prevention and treatment of depression. As little as ten minutes of exercise three times daily can have a positive impact on both your emotional and physical well-being. So stay active during the busy holiday season, even if that's accomplished by simply parking in the spot farthest from the store.
Create time each day to reflect on and be open to the blessings unfolding all around you. Gratitude opens the heart to receive and to be in the spirit of Thanksgiving. So this month, make a pledge to yourself: Promise that you won't get caught up in the frenetic pace of conspicuous consumption, but rather you'll affirm all that is good in your life. You'll be surprised at all you have to be thankful for.
James Rouse, ND, is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.