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!
5 Serotonin Boosting Recipes
During the winter time, the lack of sun and overwhelm from the holidays are just some of the many contributors to imbalanced serotonin levels, our happy hormone. One effective way we can increase our serotonin is through our diet. Foods don’t have serotonin in them, but foods do have Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in many protein-based foods and dietary proteins including meats, dairy, fruits, and seeds. It is a precursor of serotonin synthesis but must be obtained through diet because it cannot be synthesized by the body. In other words, tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain, but that must be achieved through the diet.
The recommended daily intake for Tryptophan is 280 mg.
Below are 5 Serotonin Boosting Recipes that are quick, easy to prepare, and high in Tryptophan. Use these recipes anytime you are needing a boost to your serotonin levels. Recipes can be adjusted based on your dietary preference.
The Sunshine Smoothie (Vegan)
1/2 cup Blueberries
1 ripe Banana
1-2 handful of leafy greens(spinach and/or kale)
½ -1 cup Soy milk (dependent on preference of thickness)
1 tbsp. Almond Butter
1 tbsp. of Pumpkin Seeds
1 tsp Hemp seeds
½ tsp Flax meal
¼ tsp Spirulina
Add the leafy greens and blueberries to a blender and blend for 10 seconds. (Blending up the greens first allows them to break up more.)
Add remaining ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.
*Optional: add ice to get a cold, crunchy-textured smoothie.
3 Mixed Nuts
1 cup-Pistachio Nuts
1. Combine all nuts in one bowl and mix.
Keep in an airtight container/jar
*Optional: Chop up walnuts and halve the almonds beforehand.
Salmon Quinoa Bowl (Dairy and Gluten Free)
3-4 oz Wild-caught Salmon (cooked to your preference)
1 large Egg (with yolk)
1 cup cooked Tri-blend Quinoa
1-2 handful of Leafy Greens (spinach and/or kale)
¼ cup Cooked Edamame
¼ cup chopped Almonds & Walnuts
1. Prepare the quinoa over the stove or in rice cooker.
2. Prepare your Edamame while the quinoa cooks.
3. Coat the salmon with an oil, then bake in the oven 400 °F for 9-12 minutes.
4. Cook your egg to your liking (hard-boiled is my preference for this recipe).
5. Chop up almonds and walnuts and slice up the avocado.
6. Once everything has cooked, make a bed of quinoa at the bottom of a bowl.
7. Add the salmon, edamame, leafy greens, and egg.
8. Top with the avocado and chopped almonds and walnuts.
1 ¼ cup cooked Edamame
½ cup low or Zero-Fat Yogurt
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 tsp Sesame Oil
1/2 tsp Chili Powder (optional)
Handful chopped Cilantro
A pinch of salt and pepper
1. Simply blend all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. If the dip is too thick, you can add more yogurt to get the consistency you like, but it should be coarse, not smooth. Use it as a dip or serve on toast!
Lentil & vegetable Stew (Vegan)
1 pound of Lentils, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 chopped Onion
2 chopped Carrots
2 chopped stalks of Celery
1 chopped bunch of Kale, with ribs removed
1 chopped Sweet Potato
1 tbsp of Nutritional Yeast
8 cups of Vegetable Broth
2 tbsp of Avocado Oil
Chopped Parsley for garnish
1. In a large pot, warm up the oil over medium heat, and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and sauté the ingredients until soft and brown.
2. Add in the lentils, vegetable broth, kale, sweet potato, and nutritional yeast. Bring to a slight boil, stirring now and then to mix in the kale.
3. Lower the heat to medium-low, then cover, leaving the lid ajar. Simmer the stew, stirring as needed, until lentils become tender.
4. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Find all of these ingredients at the Co-op!
Supporting our Veterans
For many, national holidays do not carry the significance that they deserve.
Some see it merely as a day that they have off of work or a day that they have to prepare for their bank being closed. For those that do have to work, it may seem as if there is no change to their routine and therefore no realization that there is even a holiday happening. And for others, there is the acknowledgement of the holiday with only a brief, yet fleeting, moment of reflection…
Let this blog serve as an opportunity to find the ways that you can truly acknowledge this year’s Veterans Day. In this blog we will cover two issues that disproportionately impact Veterans and share some resources and organizations that are working to help.
(It should be noted that the resources provided in this blog are in no way meant to be a complete list. There are many great organizations across the country that are doing meaningful work to help Veterans)
First, the History of Veterans Day
The photo that you see here was taken in Stenay, Meuse in France on November 11, 1918: two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect. A year from this date, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of “Armistice Day” with the following words:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations”
Armistice Day was recognized but not made an official national holiday until 1938. WWI was said to be “the war to end all wars” and that was an honest sentiment of the time. However, in 1954, after World War II saw the greatest military mobilization in the nation’s history and after American forces had fought in Korea, the Act of 1938 that made Armistice Day a national holiday was amended to change “Armistice” to “Veterans” in its title. From this day forward, Veterans Day became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
From the US Department of Veterans Affairs history page of the holiday:
“Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
WW1 was referred to as “the war to end all wars” but it was anything but. We see now that this once idealistic slogan is unfortunately far from reality a century later. As a result, our Veterans, no matter which era they served in, have oftentimes endured hardship and trauma that alters their lives forever.
Issues Veterans Face
Veterans Day should go beyond just expressing appreciation for those who have served. We should be doing more than Veterans Discounts at restaurants, moments of silence before sporting events and saying a simple “thank you for serving” in passing. The truth of the matter is that to properly appreciate our Veterans, we should be finding the ways that we can support them in their battle against a couple of unique issues that many of them face upon returning home that you may not be aware of.
Mental health issues and homelessness are struggles that many Americans face. Veterans of the US Military are disproportionately impacted by these issues. While these situations are dire, there are organizations and resources to support that are doing great work to attempt a remedy to these issues.
According to a 2014 study cited by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, nearly 1 in 4 active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition. The most common way that these conditions manifested were through:
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic events, often experienced during one’s time in the Military can come from combat, assault, witnessing disasters or sexual assault. These experiences can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, and substance abuse. The aforementioned 2014 study found that the rate of PTSD can be up to 15 times higher than civilians.
- Depression: Depression that interferes with daily life and normal functioning is five times more likely for Veterans and active duty members than civilians.
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A significant blow to the head or body, often as a result of combat, can later cause headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems and mood changes & swings.
In the most severe cases, unfortunately, there are Veterans who turn to suicide at alarming rates. According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, Veteran suicides in 2020 exceeded those of nonveterans in the U.S. by 57.3%. A total of 6,146 Veterans died from suicide in 2020 alone. That year, suicide was the the second leading cause of death among Veterans under the age of 45.
Mental Health Resources and Organizations to Support:
Veterans Crisis Line
Veterans in crisis, or people who are concerned about a loved one that is a Veteran, can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 then press “1” or text 838255 to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7, 365 days a year.
Web chat is also available here: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
Wounded Warrior Project
With the incredible support of donors, the Wounded Warrior Project has provided over 40,000 hours of intensive outpatient care and therapy sessions in just the past year- helping veterans and their families live happier and more fulfilling lives.
Learn more and donate here: https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/mental-wellness
The Headstrong Project
The Headstrong Project treats an average of 1,400 Veterans every month. Furthermore, 90% of the Veterans who participate in their programs report an improved quality of life. For example, 7 out of 10 of their clients report a decrease in suicidal thoughts and 8 out of 10 report improvements in their relationships.
Learn more and donate here: https://theheadstrongproject.org/the-headstrong-experience/
K9s for Warriors
Since their founding, K9s For Warriors has matched over 700 service dogs with veterans suffering from mental health conditions. 82% of veterans who participated in their programs reported a decline in suicidal thoughts, and 92% reported a reduction or elimination of prescription medications.
Learn more and donate here: https://k9sforwarriors.org/warrior-journey/
On November 3, 2022 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) announced preliminary results that showed that there are 33,136 unhoused Veterans nationwide. The results claim an 11% decline in this number since 2020 but there are many who believe that these numbers may be underestimated as it relies on sometimes unreliable local counts. Regardless, the number of unhoused Veterans, in a country that prides itself on showing appreciation for them, is staggering.
Homelessness is a huge topic of conversation in California. We have all seen the effects of homelessness which we have explored in a previous blog. However, the scope of Veterans experiencing homelessness in California is hardly the main focus of these public discussions. HUD estimates that 1/3 of our nation’s unhoused Veterans live in California, which means we have over 10,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness in our state alone. To put that into perspective, imagine a sold out football game at UC Davis Health Stadium packed to the brim with people sitting shoulder to shoulder. Now imagine that everyone in that stadium is an unhoused Veteran of the US Military.
Here are some more eye opening facts about unhoused Veterans in the US:
- The amount of female Veterans is sharply on the rise: in 2006, there were 150 unhoused female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That number rose to 1,700 in 2011 and is estimated to be closer to 6,000 in 2022. Studies conducted by HUD show that female Veterans are two to three times more likely to experience homelessness than any other group in the US adult population.
- Nearly 56% of all unhoused Veterans are Black or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 13.6% and 18.9% of the US population respectively.
- About 53% of unhoused Veterans have disabilities. Right around 50% suffer from mental illness, 67% suffer from substance abuse problems and many suffer from a combination of both
- Unhoused Veterans experience homelessness longer. On average, an unhoused Veteran will experience homelessness for nearly six years compared to four years reported among non-Veterans.
Unhoused Veteran Resources and Organizations to Support:
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans(NCHV) is recognized as a leading entity to shape policy for Veterans and are often asked to testify in front of Congress. Since 2008, they’ve given 30 testimonials on behalf of unhoused Veterans. They have also allocated more than $700 million dollars to improve and expand services for unhoused Veterans.
Learn more and donate here: https://nchv.org/veteran-homelessness/
Nation’s Finest, Sacramento
Nation’s Finest provides supportive services to very low-income Veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant. Nation’s Finest provides eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management, and assistance in obtaining VA and other mainstream benefits that promote housing stability and community integration.
Learn more and donate here: https://nationsfinest.org/our-services/#transitional-housing
Operation Dignity helps an estimated 1,000 Veterans in Alameda County annually. In 2021, they served 200 unhoused Veterans and 83% of these Veterans in their transitional housing program moved on to secure permanent housing.
Learn more and donate here: https://operationdignity.org/