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Five herbs to enhance your mood in winter

Written by Simon Mills

As we move through the dark days of the year, and in this 2020/21 season the extra pressures imposed by pandemic restrictions, it is not surprising that doctors report more demand for antidepressant prescriptions. Of course there are many people who suffer the awful bleakness of severe long-term or recurrent depression, for whom a very wide range of treatments must be considered. However antidepressants are increasingly prescribed to comfort unhappy patients or to alleviate symptoms of stress.

The natural way to lift your spirit

Where our melancholia has not reached the status of depressive illness we can usefully be reminded that there are natural approaches to lift our spirits. Indeed nature can provide the best reassurance when we are down: if one can step outside, of both one’s home and one’s self, and can get fully immersed in the cycles of life, one sees that all things are rhythmic. At the very darkest, coldest, lifeless part of the year when some animals hibernate (and show blood markers similar to clinical depression), the seeds and rootstocks are also at their most potent, bursting to get going again for the spring. Even hibernating (depressed) animals know that they will emerge with the next turn of the seasons. For many centuries humans have collectively laughed at this darkness: northern hemisphere midwinter festivals, Christmas, the Roman Saturnalia, Jewish Hannukah, Slavic Koliada, pagan Yule, Persian Yalda, or Asian Dongzhi, all are time to party! Earlier in the season the Hindu festival Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. Often the best way to beat the winter blues is in experiencing that this is the way of the world, that darkness has its role in the cycle as the precursor of light and life.

Being able to get out for a walk in nature, taking a moment to look and be there with the plants, can be enormously enriching and mood enhancing, a true healing presence. You can even bring nature home with you. The smallest space at home can become a place to nurture it. In Japan you can find little gardens on doorsteps, in any nook and cranny, in even the most blighted urban landscapes. Tending a garden, even in pots, is a great source of serenity. The act of walking is also important: exercise is probably the most efficient and speedy way to stir the happy neurotransmitters and hormones.

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