You’ve heard it said that the holidays are a time of joy and cheer. Still, the holiday season can also bring with it so many feelings of melancholy and fear. What a mixed bag, this time can be. It’s just one big emotional roller coaster, starting with Thanksgiving and ending with the ushering in of the New Year. Amid laughs over dinner, we find ourselves missing family members who have passed. We enjoy the thoughtful gift exchanges, but then cry over the credit card bills. We celebrate our independence and yet still stress over having someone special to kiss under the mistletoe. It’s no wonder that December brings about such intense depressive feelings.

The reasons are many and boy do they vary. One study[1] showed that, 68% of people surveyed felt financially strained during the holiday season which contributed to them feeling sad or dissatisfied. Researchers also discovered that 66% of participants felt lonely during the holiday season. That was the source of sadness for them. In addition, 63% felt that they were under too much pressure. Fifty-seven percent of participants cited unrealistic expectations as the source of their upset and 55% found themselves thinking on the past more fondly than on the present. Let’s face it. Between missing family that’s gone and fighting with the family that’s still here, it’s any man’s guess how one keeps up that famous “Holiday Spirit.” Add to that, the gift fiasco that has become of this commercial quarter and the way that it drains our wallets and you’ve got, more or less, everyone going into the coming year feeling broke and/or broken.

So, what are we to do?

Normally, I would suggest a profound emotional shift where you examine your relationships; perhaps, even a financial planning tool that could help you budget and give without overspending. I’d even recommend a worldly way of praying or a stress management technique to help soothe a bad mood. All of these, valid strategies for some long-term fix. This time, however, I’m just going to focus on food. There are actually quite a few items that have been found to, almost instantaneously, improve one’s mood. So, since this is the season of overeating, let’s go over a few treats that can help us fight these holiday blues.

The first five are gathered from a list that USA Today put out earlier this year[2]:

1 Quinoa

Quinoa contains flavonoid, which is said to have a significant antidepressant effect. So why not try making yourself a nice quinoa bowl? I, myself, am partial to tri-colored quinoa boiled in some vegetable stock or mushroom broth. Add a few chickpeas, small carrot cubes, thin shreds of kale, some cranberries, a little olive oil and a hint of salt and pepper. You’re in for a treat.

2 Mushrooms

Mushrooms are rich in vitamin D, which is known to boost mood and to also have anti-depressant qualities. I’ve now become a bit of a mushroom snob, searching markets for Morels, Chanterelles and Shitakes. As a vegetarian, the fleshiness of those shrooms does a nostalgic number on my taste buds. Char some large slices in a pan with garlic and olive oil and just go to town.

3 Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate tends to have a higher concentration of Cacao, which raises endorphin levels. It’s yet another, “good mood food.” Enjoy a nice piece of dark chocolate with a glass of milk or simply dump it into a deliciously healthy smoothie. No matter what you choose, you’re safe. Chocolate never disappoints.

4 Yogurt

Yogurt is a probiotic and probiotics positively contribute to the gut-brain axis. They have a calming effect on the body. Specifically, they help with managing feelings of aggression. These days, new yogurt options seem to be plentiful, but I’m still most satisfied by the classics. Give me a smooth Greek yogurt mixed with some chopped strawberries, a bit of honey and topped off with a nutty granola - Yummy!

5 Grapes

Grapes contain resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that has been proven to boost mood. They can be a wonderful accompaniment to a mixed cheese platter or be a snack in and of themselves. Pair a sweet branch of red grapes with a nice sparkling cider or simply drop a few green grapes into a fun fruit salad. Either way, you’ll feel great about the food choice you’ve made.

The next five were gathered from health.com[3]:

6 Avocado

Avocados are high in fat, which slows digestion and produces a calming, blood-sugar-evening effect. In addition, avocados are high in “good fat” which is monounsaturated fat that is healthier for your body. Try spreading some avocado on a small piece of toast, slicing some over your lunch bowl or placing a bit atop your morning omelet.

7 Cereal

Experts have found that 25 to 30g of carbs boosts your serotonin levels. That means that about three quarters of a cup of toasted oat “Os” can help you beat your afternoon slump. It’s just enough to re-energize you. So, think about keeping some in that bottom desk draw to munch on as a dry snack or to add to a milky bowl, should you have the opportunity.

8 Eggs

Eggs contain tryptophan - an amino acid that your body needs to make serotonin, but can’t produce on its own. We all know that serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer that helps to make us less anxious and more focused. That means trytophan is our friend. To get my trypto-fix, I like to scramble up two or three eggs with a little bit of Brie cheese and some White Truffle oil to seal the deal.

9 Spinach

We find B vitamin folate in foods like spinach and research has shown that higher concentrations of B vitamin folate in the blood are linked to a decrease in negative mood. So rather than a traditional salad, consider possibly dressing a happy bed of spinach. I like to add crumbled blue cheese, candied walnuts, apple slices and some tasty vinaigrette.

10 Curry

Curcumin has natural antidepressant qualities and can protect neurons from the damaging effects of chronic stress. That makes dishes like curry, not just good, but good for you. Add some carrots, tofu, and potatoes and then pour it right over some jasmine rice for a spice-filled splendor.


[1] National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2014, November 19). Mental Health and The Holiday Blues. Retrieved December 26, 2017, from https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues

[2] Rossman, S. (2017, May 09). These foods will boost your mood and make you happy. Retrieved December 26, 2017, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/09/foods-make-you-happy/307583001/

[3] Freundlich, N. (2015, March 21). 6 New Ways to Boost Your Mood with Food. Retrieved December 26, 2017, from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20732862,00.html#new-truth-go-east-and-your-mood-heads-north-0

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