For many, winter is a difficult season filled with long dark hours and cold temperatures. Whether you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or not, winter blues are a common struggle. The lack of sunlight and frigid cold really does a number on mood, and it’s during this time that energy levels seem to dip as well. Since we can’t change the weather, it’s time we stop spending this season in a state of total dread. Surviving and thriving in winter means reframing our attitude and embracing all the wonderful things about this time of year. Here are some ways to elevate your spirit and energy so you can handle winter like a pro.
Many of us spend our winter months on the couch to “Netflix and chill”, but the lack of movement can actually worsen fatigue, sluggishness and poor eating habits. Staying active during the winter is so important because exercise energizes the body and helps boost serotonin, one of the brain chemicals that helps regulate mood and sleep. Exercise also improves circulation, which will help keep your body warm when temperatures drop below zero. Take it a step further and exercise outdoors by enjoying fun winter activities like skiing, skating, and snowshoeing.
Energize with Sunlight
Shorter days combined with our hibernating habits mean our exposure to sunlight in the winter months is at its lowest. Light is the main cue influencing our circadian rhythms, which are involved in sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and energy levels. As such, a lack of sunlight can lead to fatigue, low mood, and altered sleep patterns. Spending time outdoors can help mitigate these effects since you’re exposed to sunlight, breathing in fresh air and spending time in nature. So bundle up in your warmest coat and boots and make the effort to seek out sunlight. Ways to get your daily dose of sunshine:
- Enjoy your morning coffee outside
- Take a 10 minute walk outside after lunch to recharge
- Set up your work station by a window facing the sun
With snowy roads, bad driving and cold temperatures all we want to do is stay home cooped up until winter is over. But if your fighting the winter blues, getting out and socializing may be one of the best things you could do. Research shows that social interaction can boost your mood and feelings of well-being. So just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected. Whether you prefer small, intimate gatherings or you’re a fan of lively parties, spend some time with friends and family this time of year.
When it comes to energy and mood, diet is essential. Consuming refined carbohydrates can lead to spikes in blood sugar, with subsequent hypoglycemia and low energy. So instead focus on foods containing adequate protein and healthy fats, both of which help stabilize blood sugar and provide fuel for your body and mind. Amino acids that make up protein are also the precursors for neurotransmitters like serotonin (our happy chemical). Healthy fats also improve mood and have been shown to decrease the risk of depression as well.
According to Traditional Chinese medicine, winter is a time to eat foods that are warming and cooked, which are easier for the body to digest and assimilate efficiently. Braising, slow-cooked stews and soups are recommended, as well as warming spices like ginger, chili, cardamom, and cinnamon, which can be used in cooking or teas. Eating foods that are in season like root vegetables, plenty of dark leafy greens, mushrooms, apples and pears also help nourish the body.
Supplementing with various nutrients can also help give you a boost. Vitamin D deficiency is quite common during the winter months due to lack of sunlight. Taking Vitamin D as part of your daily regimen can actually improve your mood and prevent depression. Other micronutrients like Vitamin B12 and iron play a significant role in energy levels and mood as well. Adaptogens, which are a class of herbs and mushrooms that help support healthy adrenals, can help restore energy levels if you’re experiencing stress-related fatigue. Make sure to speak to your Naturopathic Doctor to see what supplements would be best to meet your individual needs.
What a better way to ditch the winter blues than taking a vacation? Even if it’s just a quick getaway, escaping from the cold weather and long dark days can give you something to look forward to, boost your mood, and leave you feeling refreshed enough to last until spring. Ideally, going somewhere warm where you can expose yourself to the much-needed sunlight will help boost your levels of vitamin D and serotonin.
Winter gives us the opportunity to slow down, listen to our body, pamper, nourish, and soothe. It is the perfect season to indulge in beauty rituals and self-care activities like a relaxing massage, rejuvenating facial, or hot bubble bath. Treat yourself to small winter-specific luxuries like cozy socks and candles, while curling up by the fire with a good book. Saunas are another great way to pamper yourself, since they help relieve stress and leave you feeling relaxed. They have the added benefit of improving circulation and making you feel refreshed!
Change your Attitude & Practice Gratitude
The goal is to appreciate every season in all its beauty, so instead of focusing on the downsides, try to embrace all the wonderful things about winter. Enjoy activities that you can only really do this time of year, like skiing, skating, outdoor ice hockey, snowshoeing, sledding, etc. Reframe your thoughts and appreciate the beauty of a sparkling snowfall, or the warm feeling you get from a hot cup of cocoa. Looking at thing through a positive lens can really change how you feel emotionally. Also remember that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, because as the month progresses we’re actually gaining more daylight.
In summary, I hope this helps you handle winter a bit better, and possibly even find a little joy in it. That being said, it is always important to consider the underlying reason for your low energy and mood, which may be related to thyroid and hormone imbalances, digestive issues, blood sugar regulation and more. So speak to your ND about what treatment best suits you.