Winter is coming to the northern hemisphere, and despite all the holiday prep fun, it is difficult to ignore how bummed out we can get as the weather gets darker and colder. Sometimes with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we can forget that we have a very ancient and complex relationship with the natural world and seasonal fluctuations can affect us very deeply. Put simply, our body and mood respond to changes in our hormone levels caused by less light as we move into winter. Here are a few of the details:
- Each of us has an internal body clock that tells us when to be awake and asleep. Less sunlight in the winter is thought to disrupt our circadian rhythm.
- Melatonin, a hormone that influences our sleep patterns and mood is disrupted by reduced exposure to sunlight through shorter days in winter.
- Sunlight is thought to stimulate the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls sleep, mood, and appetite, all of which impact on how we feel.
- Similarly, production of serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, may be affected by low sunlight.
Some people are more sensitive to this change in daylight hours than others, but bottom line is we all usually feel more sluggish, irritable and blue as we transition into late fall and winter. A bleak outlook of cold and darkness for the next 4 months is really enough to get anyone down- but the good news is that we have some suggestions to cheer you up:
1. Make sure you are eating WildFit
A natural, human diet will help you to be at your best, restore depleted nutrients, and give you steady energy- not to mention sleep better and feel better generally. Emphasizing certain nutrients can help give you a winter boost. Seek out foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to one of your happy hormones serotonin. These include: turkey, chicken, seafood, eggs, sprouted buckwheat, nuts, and seeds. Vitamin B6 is also important for serotonin and melatonin production, and it is found most abundantly in these same foods plus dark leafy greens and avocados. Finally, we can absorb some vitamin D from deep water oily fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon- so seek it out from certified eco vendors and enjoy it once a week.
2. Wake up each day to a sunny morning
If you have ever watched the sunrise, you know what a powerful and calming practice it can be. Even simply waking up to a bright, sunlit bedroom can put a skip in your step. Waking to pitch darkness, however, can have you trudging groggily down to the kitchen, fighting with your food devil about caffeine. A solution you can try that has worked very well in practice is a dawn simulator or sunrise clock. Basically, instead of waking to a sound alarm, your body is gradually pulled out of sleep by the change in light. Studies show that these machines also help to regulate your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels, thereby improving your quality of sleep and mood. Integrate a sleep routine that has you sleeping regular hours and waking at the completion of a sleep cycle by a sunrise clock and your day may be much sunnier.
3. Get outdoors for a walk every chance you get
One of the reasons we can feel so fatigued in the dark days of winter is the lack of vitamin D, which we know is created in a chemical reaction when sunlight hits our skin. When we are fatigued, our breathing is more rapid and shallow, so our already tired body receives even less oxygen. When vitamin D drops, so does our sex drive- so not only are we tired, but cranky too! The solution- get outside for intentional movement as much as possible, especially when it is sunny! Why multitask your sun bathing with walking? The exercise causes you to release Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and endorphins that make you feel happy and relaxed, and that makes it harder to feel blue. Take work breaks to go for a few laps, making sure the sun hits your face and as much skin as possible. Spend some time each weekend going for a hike in the closest park to enjoy the peace and fresh air. A 2005 study from Harvard University suggests walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week improved symptoms of mild to moderate depression. If you can’t get out, still be an opportunist- if the sun starts shining, get over to a window and take some deep breaths.
4. Engage with your tribe
It can be oh so tempting to put on your sweats the moment you get home from work and binge watch from bed on weekends- and it may feel cozy and relaxing-but in truth this only makes things worse. According to a study by Marketcast, an entertainment research firm, 56 percent of bingers prefer to watch alone and 98 percent watch at home. This behaviour takes time away from other essential things in life, like hanging out with friends or hobbies that bring you joy. So, make plans to get out of the house at least once a week. Commit to a class, meet up with friends for dinner, and generally spend more time enjoying your life instead of zoning out as it passes by.
5. Plan something to look forward to
Knowing cold, dark and blustery days lie ahead of you can decrease your motivation and focus. Having something on the calendar that makes you excited- whether it is Eric’s Speaking Academy or another cool event, a swanky ski trip with old friends, a vacation to somewhere tropical or anything in between- it will help you stay positive and bring up good energy anytime you do some planning around the event. Joining a dance or music class with a recital at the end of term, a WildFit Challenge, a MindValley quest, or something similar with designated dates, practice and an end goal celebration will give you something bigger to focus on (you) and hke up predictable everyday life.
Winter is coming, but hibernation doesn’t have to! Above all, practice gratitude in appreciating the good in each day, especially those moments that come by being more active and present in your life. Let us know which of these tips work for you, and what you do to beat the winter blues in the comments below.