How to Combat the Winter Blues
I lived in South Dakota for almost 6 years, and the winters there really rocked my world. Having only lived in California, I never spent much time in the snow prior, so learning how to live(and drive) in it was going to be a huge, new task for me. On top of acclimating to the snow, I also had to deal with the loss of sunlight once Daylight Savings came along in November. No matter where I lived though, the Winter Blues always made it’s yearly visit to me. I knew that my first winter there I was going to have to actively come up with ways to make it more manageable.
First, let’s discuss what Winter Blues is and the symptoms that come along with it.
“Winter Blues a non-medical diagnosis, characterized by feelings of depression or deep unhappiness associated with experiencing the cold and darkness of winter.”
Some symptoms may include: feelings of sadness, low energy, restlessness, & lack of motivation to complete some tasks, but are still able to handle major tasks such as going to work and taking care of the house.
After some research and conversations with folks in my community, I came to find 6 helpful tips to combat the Winter Blues:
1. Re-decorate your space
With it being cold outside and the sun going down earlier in the day, you’ll most likely be spending more time inside your home. This is the perfect time to make your home as cozy and sacred as you can. Nothing is better than coming home to a place that is clean and arranged as you would like. You can do this with or without having to buy new things. Even just re-arranging your furniture in each room, or the one you spend the most time in, can make a big difference!
2. Plan time with friends and loved ones
Staying consistent with planning time with friends and loved ones can help immensely. If distance is a factor, thank goodness for technology; you can still set up weekly phone/Facetime calls. Connection is so important even when we feel like hibernating from the world.
3. Eat Well
It’s so easy to overeat and/or eat “unhealthy” during this time of the year- the holidays bring so many comfort food opportunities! And yes, please indulge when you’d like, but continuing a healthy diet throughout the winter makes a huge difference. And since you will be home more, this is a great opportunity to learn new winter recipes. There are many serotonin boosting foods we can incorporate into our daily meals that will help stabilize our mood throughout the day. (Read our Serotonin Boosting Recipes Blog!)
4. Start a new hobby or pick one back up
One of my favorite hobbies is beading, but during the spring and summer, I’m not wanting to do it as much because I’d rather be moving around outside. So in the winter I really indulge in it, because it’s a perfect hobby to do inside. Other good winter hobbies could include knitting, reading, doing puzzles, playing board games, journaling, yoga, or binge watching a show or two. No shame in your hobby game!
5. Get your daily Vitamin D each day through sunlight, food, and supplements
It is said that about 1 billion people in the world are Vitamin D deficient. A 2013 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked at research involving a total of 31,424 people and found that having low levels of vitamin D increased the risk for depression.
About 50% to 90% of Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin via sunlight while the rest comes from the diet. Twenty minutes of sunshine daily with over 40% of skin exposed is required to prevent Vitamin D deficiency.
If you have a spot in your house that gets good lighting, put a chair, rug, or pillow in that spot and sit there for as long as you like. You can stretch, read, or do any other activity to increase your time in that sunspot. If you can also do this at your place of work as well, that’s even better!
Nowadays there are sun lamps/lights that folks can purchase and set up in their house if they are unable to get natural sunlight throughout the day. You sit directly in front of the light for the recommended time, and boom, you got your daily recommended Vitamin D for the day!
And of course, another way to get Vitamin D is from the foods you eat and/or supplements. Supplementing your Vitamin D daily ensures you get your Vitamin D, whether or not you can get sunlight during the day.
6. Hug friends, family, and/or pets more
Physical contact stimulates the brain to produce more serotonin, dopamine, & oxytocin, hormones that play an important role to our well-beings. So hug a loved one, pets included! (My dream is to book an hour-long session at the Gentle Barn, in Southern California where I can hug and meditate with a cow and other farm animals. Just thinking about this is giving me a serotonin boost!)
Hugs are free and you can do it for as long as you’d like! It is recommended to hug for at least 30 seconds.
Deepen your practice with Hugging Meditation.
Let’s be clear though, Winter Blues should not get confused with S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of clinical depression that is a more severe experience of winter blues. If you find it difficult to maintain relationships, complete work, or manage daily tasks, please reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for help.
We’ve already made it past the shortest day of the year, so it’s only up from here!
Health is About More Than What You Eat
When talking about health, diet tends to be the first thing that comes to mind. While eating a balanced diet is a very big part of a healthy lifestyle, it is not all-encompassing. Your sleep patterns, hydration level, and even your thoughts also contribute to your overall health.
Believe it or not, lifestyle habits like these can have an even stronger impact on your health than what you eat!
Did you know that getting plenty of sleep is associated with lower body weight, higher athletic performance, improved immune function, and better overall mood?
It has been shown that improving your sleep can be one of the easiest ways to improve your health. A recent review of 15 different studies, posted by Oxford Academic, found that sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Poor sleep habits are also strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar metabolism. A 2010 study also found that sleep deprivation can cause prediabetes in healthy adults in as little as 6 days!
Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. You simply cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep.
Stress is the next big factor that affects your health, regardless of what you eat.
When stressed your muscles naturally tense up to protect themselves from injury. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches.
Stress also stimulates the immune system. This stimulation can help you avoid infections and heal wounds, but over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and common cold, as well as other infections.
Additionally, your liver produces extra blood sugar when stressed to give you a boost of energy. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge and it can contribute to glucose insensitivity and even the onset of diabetes.
Water is actually the most important nutrient of all! It’s essential for body temperature regulation,
Older adults often don’t get enough fluids and risk becoming dehydrated, especially during summer when it’s hotter and people perspire more.
Studies show that even mild dehydration, such as the loss of 1–3% of body weight, can impair many aspects of brain function! Many additional studies, with subjects ranging from children to adults, have shown that mild dehydration can impair mood, memory, and brain performance.
Even mild dehydration can affect you mentally and physically making it imperative to get enough water each day!
Your thoughts and feelings play a big role in your overall health. Positive thinking is associated with heart health, brain health and even longevity.
In recent years, researchers have found that your mind can have a powerful effect on your body. Immunity is one area where your thoughts and attitudes can have a particularly powerful influence. In one study, researchers found that activation in brain areas associated with negative emotions led to a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine.
By nurturing positive emotions, even in the face of terrible events, people can reap both short-term and long-term rewards,including managing stress levels, lessening depression, and building coping skills that will serve them well in the future.
Rest and Self Care
Mental well-being also plays a crucial role in overall health. While it can be easy to feel the need to be constantly productive, taking time to rest and reflect is important for mental health and stress relief.
While there are no specific guidelines for how much relaxation a person should incorporate into their lifestyle, making time to unwind and enjoy life is an important part of maintaining good health. Deep relaxation, like meditation, when practiced regularly not only relieves stress and anxiety, but also is shown to improve mood.
Deep relaxation has many other potential benefits as well—it can decrease blood pressure, relieve pain, and improve your immune and cardiovascular systems.
Taking time for self-care and relaxation is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. This can be anything from meditation and yoga to knitting, baking, walking, or swimming. Finding time for quiet and peaceful activities can make a world of difference when it comes to your health.
How You Eat
The quality of the food you eat is extremely important when it comes to health, but what about the way in which you eat?
In America, eating is often rushed, squeezed in, multi-tasked, and on-the-run. We may be distracted by television, work, or the computer while we eat. Many people eat very quickly and feel too full by the time they stop eating.
Distractions such as sitting on the couch and watching TV or being on your phone while eating can take away from the connection between you and your meal and contribute to overeating.
Using mindfulness practices to rebuild connections with these internal hunger and fullness cues will help you learn to regulate food and reach your health goals. Mindful eating allows you to feel in control and enjoy the experience of eating so much more.
To be more mindful with the way you eat try paying attention to the food that you eat, minimizing distractions, slow down your eating, chewing food thoroughly, and eat when hungry and stop at a comfortable level of fullness.
As you continue to explore healthful eating and managing food portions, remember that learning “how to eat” is just as important as learning “what to eat.”