Well, it’s that time of year again. Days are short, nights are long and the temperatures are dropping. Unfortunately, other things that drop this time of year are peoples energy, mood, and even libidos. But there are a number of simple things we can do to help prevent or at least minimize these “winter blues”.
Before I get to how to beat the winter blues, it's important that we understand are how many of us get SAD? How severe can it get? And finally what are the general symptoms of SAD?
Largely, the cause for SAD is unknown, but most believe it’s related to hormone issues our bodies face in the dark winter months;
There is some evidence that it is related to the body's levels of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. As darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, preparing the body for sleep, the short and dark winter days causes melatonin production in the body to increase leading people to feel sleepier and more lethargic.
Alternatively, people suffering from SAD may have trouble balancing and optimizing their levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that heavily influences mood.
And finally, some research has suggested that people with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D in response to decreased sunlight; vitamin D is believed to play a significant role in serotonin activity. Insufficiency of vitamin D is associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.
Estimations tell us that 2 - 6 % of the population get severe SAD symptoms, with up to 20% experience mild symptoms and affects women much greater with up to 4 times more women being diagnosed with symptoms than men.
So what will you feel when experiencing SAD? There are many symptoms but they can include:
A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
A drop in energy levels
A tendency to oversleep
Irritability and moodiness
Increased sensitivity to social rejection
And avoidance of social situations
So now that we now what the causes could be, and what are some of the symptoms, what can do to fight the winter blues? Well I’ll tell you the many things I do, and hopefully you can find some ideas that will help you.
Number 1, light, light, light!
Light is a HUGE factor. So I have armed myself with a number of bright idea technological tools to fight the winter blues, and no, these are not thousands or even hundred dollar ideas, they are all easily under $50.
All year round I use a Wake Up light - This has been a huge game changer in my mornings. Recently I had to go without it for about a week, and I am telling you, it was terrible. Using this wake up light as my alarm clock, really helps me to get out of bed on time and with a lot more ease.
Next, after getting out of bed I turn on EVERY light in my home.
Third, I go to my standing coffee table and I turn on my SAD tablet light, and I drink my coffee by it, I only use it for about 10-15 minutes each morning.
Finally when it comes to light, at around 7:30am I’ll go for a walk outside. This is around the time the sun is just coming up, and I try to get as much early morning light as I can, which can really help reset your circadian clock. A special note as well, DO NOT wear sunglasses in the winter! You need the light. In fact I rarely wear sunglasses ever, but almost never during the winter.
The next category I manage is scent - To help pep me up in the mornings, scent can be very helpful, and many scents have energizing and brain stimulating affects, so each morning I always use my essential oil diffuser with peppermint, cypress, or orange, lemon or lime. Interestingly there are now even Wake-Up lamps with built in aromatherapy diffusers as well, which I hope to get soon.
The next thing you need to do is stay active in the winter, even on cold days I try to take a walk, I make sure I get to the gym 3-5 times a week, and at home I’ll do some stretching, mobility and yoga mini-workouts, particularly in the morning.
By now I’m sure you’re well aware of the energy boosting benefits of exercise, but it can also boost brain function and has been shown to be more powerful than anti-depressants, and a shit load safer.
Keep Eating Well and Supplement for the Season
For nutrition, I tend to make sure I don't get caught up in all the high sugar foods, especially around the holidays, and while I’m far from a hardcore food estrictor, quite the opposite in fact, I still keep mindful of the type of foods I eat daily.
For supplements, I use about 3-5000 iu of vitamin D a day.
Take a fish oil high in DHA,
And I also always have a morning cup of coffee with some coconut milk, a 1/4 teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon which can help balance blood sugar, and 1 square of dark chocolate or tablespoon of raw, organic cocoa powder.
There are other supplements that can help boost mood or increase serotonin as well, and those include SAM-e, 5HTP, St Johns Wort, the amino acid Tryptophan, a high B complex, and even using probiotics or eating high probiotic foods.
Besides these simple at home remedies, I also use quite a few bio-hacks that have been shown to help balance energy and boost brain power.
About 4 days a week I visit the sauna, and sit in it anywhere from 15-30 minutes. The benefits of saunas go so deep into body and mind, personally I think its crazy not to do it as often as you can, and the community centre is only like $4.00, so there is no excuse that it “costs too much”.
A controversial one I do is from December until early April is I will go tanning about 2 times a week, doing about 7-9 minutes in a standing booth. But I’m carful to not get addicted to the endorphins that cause the feel good feeling, and I make sure to never get burned. And some recent studies have shown that indoor tanning beds with UVB can really help with boosting vitamin D.
Finally the other hack that I personally love is getting some cold temperature immersion. So about 2-3 times a week I’ll do an outdoor walk in only some shorts, or thin linen pants. The cold really does energize you, as the cold temperature triggers a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, which make you feel happier. You can also try a cold water rinse off after your shower.
Socializing & Keeping Busy
Next we get to socializing and hobbies. Make sure to get out as much as you did in the summer. This is a great time to join a new group, or start a new project, try out a new class, start writing a book, take up a new skill, maybe check out the local spinning class, walking group, yoga class, or maybe even try getting into a winter sport.
Celebrate The Yin Season
And finally, it’s the winter, just “Get Hygge with it”. The winter is the yin season. Take more time to yourself. Read a book. Get some cuddle blankets and floor cushions. Hit up the bookstore more often and flip through some magazines, or read a book over coffee. Buy an electric fireplace to liven up your living room. And use the earlier setting sun to get to bed earlier and then use my tips to wake up earlier.
Wrap Up: Just Do It
Trust me, a wake-up lamp, SAD tablet, cup of coffee, some peppermint oil scent, a fast morning walk, a quick stretch, and a cold rinse will have you energized to take on the day.
I hope some of these tips that I use with both myself and coaching clients will help make your winter a bit better, happier and energized. For more ideas like this, as well as many more topics on nutrition, exercise, healthy travel, bio-hacking, and holistic living make sure to follow my blog on my website at www.roralexander.com, tune in to my Health By Design Podcast on apple podcasts, Anchor and Spotify, as well as subscribing to this YouTube channel, and my IG @roralexander. And of course you can always reach out to me to discuss how I can help you through my Stronger, Longer, Better private coaching program.
And until next time I’m here to help you live Stronger, Longer, and as always Better.