Winter can be beautiful when snow falls but losing more light during the day can leave us feeling dreary inside. With the bite of cold blanketing the darkness it can play on a deep level of our mental psych, plaguing us with the doom and gloom of depression. Is it so inevitable it can’t be avoided?
Science has now proven the winter blues is a very real thing and even given the name (SAD) or Seasonal Affective Disorder for those who dread the yearly suffering on a larger scale (think about talking to a professional if this applies to you). Our biological clocks are knocked off course when the days get shorter, not to mention that cold can chase us indoors leading to less physical activity and more binge eating.
So, let’s break this yearly cycle with trying to beat the winter blues away. On board?
If you’ve read my blog about the ‘Brain Boosting Lifestyle Change’, which I developed to keep myself consistently beating depression naturally, it might be a good starting point to lay down a foundation to ward off the winter blues. (verify with a health professional first. There is an outlined calendar available for print that you can take with you. You will need the weaning off bad carb calendar to jump start the lifestyle change.)
The BBLC (Brain Boosting Lifestyle Change) will keep you on a positive path once it is customized to your body mentally, physically and emotionally.
In addition to the BBLC, here are some more helpful tips to keep from hibernating like a bear and enjoying winter more like a penguin. Trust me, it’s possible!
What Goes In The Body Matters:
One thing that reveals tricky about the gloom, in winter, is that the natural tendency for our body to soak in vitamin D his hindered. It becomes essential that ‘D’ is a key… in aiding to a healthy brain. Consult a doctor on a natural vitamin supplement and be weary of grabbing it from an additive in milk, eggs and juice which are loaded with sugars, hormones and other unhealthy additives; These do your brain more harm than good.
Remember how we use to say “You are what you eat?” Well, sorry friends, but your brain feels the wrath of bad food (that taste so good). Your brain is one hungry organ, feeding off about twenty percent of your daily intake. This means, not only are you eating what effects important parts of your body’s mechanical makeup such as gut, sugar levels, thyroid, heart, nerves, muscles, immune system (etc etc) but you are effecting it ALL. Know why?
The body works as a unit! (And YOUR brain is the main operator of the machine)
And we, people, LOVE to shock are systems around the holidays with excuses to over eat and stuff ourselves with overly processed food. Social gatherings are wonderful and you should truly enjoy yourself with good food but don’t cave in with overindulgence because then we just beat ourselves over it later. How many times have you said in January, “Oh, I need to start working out again. I ate too much around the holidays”?
In winter our body is naturally craving more grains and “bad” because these types of foods release “happy” chemicals in the brain. As we continue to feed ourselves these types of foods we grow an immunity, so to say, needing more and more to get “that fix.” Yes, addiction. When January comes around and winter still fogs the air, you literally have to put your body and brain into shock before weaning off the bad food. Your relationship with food can cause cycles of dips in and out of depressed moments, attack self-esteem and hurt your brain and body from the inside out.
Ouch! Is it worth it?
Worried food IS the only reason you enjoy the holidays? Find healthier options and if going to a party or get together offer to bring trays you can share and prefer to eat (that are made healthy). Cooking books like The Food Babe Kitchen and other healthy, yet delicious, recipes she has listed on her blog might be a good jump start for you to enjoy good food. Check her out.
Lastly, if you missed it, check out my blog about depression fighting spices. This is an easy way to start adding brain healthy foods in your everyday life. MaryRuth Organics just released Holy Basil drops too, which is an easy supplement to add to your tea or smoothie. Holy Basil has shown to fight anxiety and stress along with many other health benefits.
Physical Activity Matters:
Some of us really hate the cold and will avoid going outside at all cost. Raise your hand if this is you! However, there are other ways to get levels of activity done at your sweet cozy home. There was once a smart podcast I listened to (aka: I listen to him all the time) where I heard: It’s not about being motivated it’s about being committed. (Max Lugavere; Genius Life) I believe this statement holds a hundred percent of truth.
If you aren’t comfortable going to a gym or a class, there are an abundance of free online videos that health trainers have made available to you. Yoga, stretches, cardio boxing, spin and the list goes on…. I’ve found them on YouTube and I know you can too. (Thanks to Google)
Keeping your body engaged, at least thirty minutes, of high level activity a day raises serotonin levels. If you can’t find the time or energy for thirty straight minutes begin with fifteen minute increments. As your body adjust you will eventually crave more and longer periods of activity. You know why? Your brain and body love it! (Even if you don’t know it, yet. Go ahead… dare you to prove me wrong. Let me know after a month 🙃)
Rather we want it all the time or only on occasion, the human species was designed to develop relationships and social interactions with other people (animals can be on this list since they also improve chemicals in the brain). If proof is needed, well, our brains have already actively revealed this discovery to scientist (and so have animals). For those of us who like to go straight home and hibernate from the cold, too many nights of this repetitive behavior can lead to loneliness. Loneliness can lead to…depression.
I understand a pandemic may leave many of us trapped at home but you can be creative on how to spend some time with family and friends. If you can’t see them in person, then schedule zoom call game nights and enjoy personal phone chats over text. Don’t be afraid or feel ashamed to reach out and let people know you yearn for social interaction if feeling lonely. It may feel vulnerable but people can understand and relate to being lonely (avoid making this a status update on Facebook and reach out personally) Don’t feel bad (or feel like you are being an inconvenience) because you are actually doing someone a great service by allowing them to extend kindness. (Kindness builds happy chemicals in the brain.)
New to the neighborhood? Just need to meet new people? Try a platonic app like Meetup which helps connect you to people that have like mind interest. I know first hand that Meetup is doing a lot of groups on zoom during the pandemic. There are also other platonic friend apps and Cosmopolitan gives a great article with clickable links on this subject.
Having social interactions rises dopamine and releases endorphins in the brain, happy chemicals for the brain, so don’t make excuses. Give yourself some TLC, put your socialization boots on and shine.
Keep Stress Managed:
I can’t stress the importance of stress management. I wrote a great blog on how to manage bad (chronic) stress that is worth checking out because… unfortunately, three to four months (or however long the Groundhog says winter will last) is a long time of cold. If you stress over this, then yes, this is a period of chronic stress for you.
Snow mobiles, icy roads and freezing temps! Oh my!
A great way to cope in the winter (or too me, anytime) is a nice long hot bath. I throw some lilac scented Epsom salts in the water, light a candle and listen to classical music, read a book or watch a feel good movie on my iPad. (Take me away!)
Understanding stress triggers and how to manage them, during anytime of the year, gives you control of how it will effect your serotonin levels in the brain. If you can foresee a stress trigger coming your way, avoid it and teach yourself how to redirect the situations to the best of your abilities. There are some great reads out there on how to do this so check your Goodreads app and search stress. (If you suffer from PTSD or C-TSD, I highly recommend Pete Walker’s book: Complex PTSD to read during these winter months or anytime you need to level this kind of stress)
Get Enough Sleep; But not too much:
Low serotonin levels can effect sleep, either causing insomnia or creating too much melatonin. Shorter winter days and darker mornings can tilt our sleeping schedules and cause imbalance in our typical routine. (I’ll raise my hand here)
One method I found, that is working for me right now, is taking 5HTP (with vitamin B) in the morning and melatonin in the evening. It keeps my brain balanced to settle down in the evening and ready for sleep. (Ask your doctor if this routine is right for you and how many mg you should take. I found out about it on Max Lugavere’s podcast, Genius Life. ⬅️ Click the link to listen to that episode.) I also drink chamomile tea in the evening and other sleepy night teas opposed to my use to go to wine, which helps me fall asleep but actually hinders good, restful sleep. (In FitBit terms: Tea gives me “excellent to good sleep” and Wine gives me “fair” to “poor” sleep)
Keep in mind that not enough sleep, or too much, effects your mind, body and mood. Little sleep can contribute to low serotonin levels which is another stepping stone in aiding to depression.
Following the above advice, along with the BBLC as a foundation is going to aid it beating those “normal” winter blues. (And if your new to the game, welcome. I hope with plenty of information you will never have to suffer during the winter months again. I do advise speaking with a professional before major changes to diet and/or physical activity)
The other night I was reading my son a book about a Turtle that was deeply sad of winter. He explained to his good friend Rabbit that he couldn’t do his favorite things like picnics, rolling down hills or swimming in the pond; But his good friend countered everything to the optimistic side with ice skating, sledding, hot chocolate and soup. This children’s book is an insightful reminder for us adults that deal with Winter Blues. It’s looking on the positive side and making the best of winter until the hot summer months return.
May you stay warm and cozy while active and healthy.
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