When I was living in New York City's Greenwich Village, every winter I'd brace for unpleasantness and mood swings. January was always cold, full of dreary colorless days and often triggered a general malaise. Even with the good fortune of now living in sunny Southwest Florida, I'm still aware that winter months can pack a punch of chillier temperatures, fog and darkness that curtains the landscape by late afternoon.
Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder with symptoms ranging from fatigue and depression to hopelessness and social withdrawal. In extreme cases in which symptoms persist longer than a few weeks, I encourage seeking professional help. For others, there are ways to boost your spirits naturally.
Here are simple choices I recommend and I've included my personal practices as well.
With inclement weather and lower temperatures, bright light can serve as an anti-depressant. If sunshine is at a minimum--and you can't go outside or sit in a sunny window--find daylight-balanced light bulbs to use. A digital "wake-up" light can also help simulate dawn and get you going in the mornings with a gentler launch.
What I do: In addition, I use a Himalyan Salt Lamp at my work desk which emanates a pleasingly soft glow,
and allegedly purifies the air and reduces the impact of electromagnetics.
Since I often work in the evenings, I also have apps on my computer and phone which warm the light-balance of my screen automatically after sunset so my sleep is not affected. (Bright screens can trick your brain into thinking it's still daytime which stimulates you to stay awake. When you don't get adequate sleep, you'll likely be irritable and in a funk.
Retreating into warm blankets on the couch awaiting the blossoms of Spring--as delicious as that might feel temporarily--is not a good solution for the winter doldrums. A better option is to get moving. Get a workout buddy and commit to taking a daily walk, going to the gym, playing a sport, taking a yoga class, or learning ballroom dancing. Just keep moving through those gray days and you are guaranteed to feel better.
What I do
Since I write a lot, I work for hours at my computer. Rather than sitting, I use a standing desk which keeps me more energized. Once every hour or two, I take a 5 or 10-minute break to jump on my rebounder which is like a mini-trampoline. It's fun and a huge mood booster! I'm also conscientious about work-life balance so I schedule time to play tennis at least four times a week. And I do light yoga regularly. Typically my morning routine includes doing Sun Salutation which awakens my entire body and is a good stretch. Or I might just do Qigong "Heaven and Earth" for a few repetitions.
Eating smart keeps your body functioning at peak performance. Whole foods like fruits and vegetables, plus fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, rainbow trout, sardines) offer good nutritional balance. Salmon and sardines are especially high in Vitamin D which is absolutely essential for optimal health. (Consider taking Vitamin D supplements to be sure you're getting enough.) I'm thrilled to report that research studies have shown significant benefits of eating Dark chocolate. It's full of antioxidants and can reduce cortisol, the stress hormone so you feel calmer. About an ounce a day of the delicious treat is recommended. A big no-no is sugar. Sugary desserts and candies spike the feel-good sensors in the brain and contribute to cravings that are not useful. Sugar has NO nutritional value and sadly it's highly addictive. You can try my 7-day free program to wean yourself off the bad stuff!
What I do:
I'm not yet recommending this but I've been experimenting with intermittent fasting which reduces the range of time during which you eat. So on many days, I skip breakfast. I'll have a cup of coffee or herbal tea and I don't eat until Noon. I stop eating by 8pm. I make sure to stay hydrated all day. So far I'm pleased with my mood...and my weight! I confess I'm a chocoholic so I'm very appreciative to have permission to eat dark chocolate! I enjoy drinking herbal teas throughout the day. I choose healthy varieties.
4. SCENTS & SOUNDS
Studies on depression have found scents such as orange or lemon boost feelings of well-being. These increase levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that affects mood. Using pure essential citrus oils, put a few drops on a cloth and breathe the scents. Or squeeze some lemon juice into herbal tea for a pick-me-up. Or add some drops of orange to a warm bath.
Sounds can also have a positive impact on your moods. Listening to upbeat, foot-tapping music can give you a lift. Plus sounds can be both relaxing and healing. Sounds have been proven to affect your health.
What I do:
I keep a tiny bottle of essential oil of lavender with me at all times. I dab a drop under my nose throughout the day. It keeps me calm and also healthy as it has antibacterial and antiviral properties. (I especially use it when traveling to keep flu and cold germs away.) I love to play singing bowls in my relaxation and Yoga Nidra classes. With these binaural sounds, students go into even deeper levels of peacefulness as the vibrational impact resonates within every cell. I even use a special sound device for healing purposes.
I used to dread winter. Now it's just another season with its own specialness. Of course, I made the mindful decision years ago to move to a home where winters are milder and moods are happier. That, of course, is another option : get out of those icy, snowy Northern winters!