As Canadians, we know how tough winter can be, and it’s not just terrible road conditions and shovelling driveways. The diminishing daylight hours can actually have a profound effect on our biological clocks (or circadian rhythms) and can cause troublesome hormone changes in our bodies.
For some of us the shift is experienced as sleepiness or as seasonal blues that pass after a week or two of adjusting; other times it can become something more serious like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is said to affect those of us who live far from the earth’s equator; all Canadians are susceptible. The term “SAD” is a bit of a catch-all for moodiness during the winter months due to its similarities to other disorders. Seasonal Affective Disorder is characterized by feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious; losing interest in your usual activities; eating and craving carbohydrates; weight gain; feeling tired despite getting more sleep than usual; and having trouble concentrating.
Whether you’re just feeling the blues or something more akin to SAD, here are some tips for staying positive and healthy even when it’s cold and dark outside.
Find ways to have fun
Try a new hobby. Learning something new will stimulate your brain with positive hormones. Try a new board game with family or friends, take up a new craft, or try winter sports. If it’s something that will get you outdoors during the day, even better!
Stretches and Exercise
It can be hard to start exercising and being health-wise if you’re not already into that culture. My advice is to start with stretches and short bursts of intense cardio! You can find great videos on YouTube for beginners, try searching “yoga stretches for beginners” and you’ll find a great selection; try a few before you decide which will work for you.
Also, doing intense cardio for as little as 20-30 seconds a day has been shown to help improve your health and diminish your stress levels (those negative hormones). Try running up and down your staircase a few times to really get your heart pumping, and then walk it off until that heartbeat is back to normal. Even shovelling your driveway is great cardio, and if you do it during daylight hours, that’s an extra bonus. Please be careful if you have a known heart condition or asthma; know your limits and respect them.
Healthy Diet and Supplements
This is going to sound like a cliché, but it’s very important to make sure you are getting the right mix of vitamins and minerals in your diet during the winter. Eating fruits can help boost your mood because of their natural sugars, and eating your greens, reds, purples and oranges help your body get the vitamins you need. Most significant is Vitamin D, which we normally absorb through sunlight in the summer. Taking a supplement in the winter is a great practice. Other vitamins such as B10 and B12 can be helpful as well. Talk to your health care provider about which vitamins and doses are best for you.
Did you know that a very effective way to combat stress and moodiness is to stay hydrated? Giving yourself a mental boost can be as simple as drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water every day (that’s only 64 to 80 ounces, or about 2 litres). Refill your sports water bottle three times, and that’s it for the day! It’s much easier to do than you think.
Also, before you grab your morning coffee, have a small drink of water to rehydrate you in the morning. Coffee is dehydrating, and while the caffeine seems to help, water will benefit you more in the long run.
You may have already heard of light therapy in the winter. This is a bit more expensive than the other tips here, but a very effective one. If you buy full spectrum light bulbs for your home, you’ll benefit from the UV rays they emit. Even a single lamp can suffice if it’s one you sit under daily; keep one at your desk!
Another option is to go to a tanning salon and make use of their beds. It won’t take much time for you to benefit (talk to the representatives about what will suit your skin type). While there are some negative aspects to artificial tanning, the goal isn’t to have a golden glow it’s to get that energy boost; a short visit or two per week should be plenty.
Again, this isn’t a cheap option, but it is one of my absolute favourite solutions for the winter blues! These are alarm clocks that mimic a sunrise just before your usual wake up time. Some models also feature lovely chirping birds, or other nature sounds as an alarm option to help you wake up.
I own one of these and have seen a dramatic difference in my outlook and attitude from one day to the next with the use of this lamp. This morning I actually woke up 20 minutes before my alarm, which is about 40 minutes earlier than I normally would (I love that snooze button). I am not a morning person no matter the time of year, so it was such a wonderful experience to sit with a cup of tea before I started my typical routine.
In the end, getting outside despite the cold temperatures is going to be the best way to combat winter blues. Nothing beats fresh air and real sunlight. For those truly inclement days, these suggestions will help you get by. Try a few of them on their own or in combination and see what works for you. If you continue to struggle with depressive feelings or thoughts, it is a good idea to talk to your health care provider about it. With mood disorders it’s best to nip them in the bud.
These simple techniques could make a big difference so why not try them? Take charge of your mental health this season and rediscover the joy in winter!
by Lindsay Mann, guest blogger for Agilec™