Jan 29, 2017 08:09PM
● By Julie Ross
I hope it’s bright and sunny outside as you read this. As I write, we are crawling out from under January’s multi-day deluge but still feeling the weight of overcast skies. The scene out the window is drab and damp. It’s no wonder that the shorter, gloomy days of winter can make us feel tired, anxious, and moody.
Scientists tell us a disruption in our circadian rhythms, the dark/light cycle of our body clock, is to blame. For most of us, the effects are thankfully mild; others live with the debilitating syndrome of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). When bright natural daylight is not available, many people suffering from SAD find relief by sitting near a “sun box,” which provides exposure to super bright artificial light for 30 or more minutes a day. Others use a “dawn simulator,” which mimics daybreak with gradually increasing light in the morning.
For those of us who are just feeling a bit down, what advice is out there to brighten our mood? I read about the obvious -- listen to cheery music, get outside, help others, do yoga. Then I came upon the best suggestion yet: Eat chocolate. Brilliant!
There are 300 naturally occurring chemicals in chocolate, many of which affect your brain in a feel-good way. Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that activates a receptor to produce dopamine to provide a feeling of well-being. Anandamide is named for ananda, the Sanskrit word for “bliss.” (Pass the Ghirardelli squares already!)
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, stimulants also shown to produce dopamine. Then there’s tryptophan, which releases serotonin, a mood lifting neurotransmitter. Having a rough day? Eating chocolate releases endorphins into the brain, decreasing levels of stress and pain.
Adding to the joyous chocolaty complexity is the presence of phenylethylamine, a “love drug” that lends alertness, provides a degree of excitement, quickens your pulse, and, well, just makes you happy.
More good news – you only need a small amount of chocolate, about half an ounce, approximately the equivalent of two Hershey’s kisses, to reap all these pleasurable benefits.
If no one gifts you with chocolate on February 14 this year, be your own Valentine and treat yourself to a heart-shaped box of the good stuff. Bring on the bliss!
You can reach Julie at [email protected]