Winter Resilience

I recently found myself asking my husband as we put on our coats to go outside, “Do you remember when it was summer?” This is usually around the time of year when I start longing for the color and warmth of spring and summer and when the shorter days start to take their toll. This noticeable shift in mood and behavior can vary in degrees for people and there is a very real biological basis for it. The loss of exposure to sunlight on our skin and the decrease in daylight can affect our mood and behavior. The loss of the color found in the grass and blooms, the bundling up that must occur before each outing, and just being plain cold are enough to darken any mood. For some it is known as the “winter blues” and for others it means a diagnosis called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The symptoms that make up both the winter blues and SAD vary in degree and include aches and pains, decreased motivation, increased irritability or unhappiness with present circumstances, weight loss or gain, desire to isolate, increased or decreased appetite, and increased desire for sleep. For many people these symptoms begin as early as August, and for others the symptoms present closer to January. Here are some suggestions to help build resilience against the winter months:

Become attuned to the reason for winter, and align with the same purpose. The winter months bring rest to the earth. The rest gives way to renewal so that spring can happen! Allow this to be a guide for you personally, and give yourself the gift of rest and renewal during these winter months. Give yourself the gift of going inward to see if there are life changes you'd like to instate. 

Schedule 1-2 vacations that will be full of sunshine and warmth. The vacation itself can make a world of difference, but just the thought of an upcoming vacation can help encourage our mood.

Feeling worn out after the holidays? Much of this has to do with the increase of sugar and carbs we intake, not to mention that often this time of year throws off our regular routine. Be vigilant of staying on a normal sleep, exercise, rest, and work routine. Winter months often mean an increase in our desire for sugar and carbs, which can wreak havoc on our moods. Try recipes with sugar substitutes such as Stevia or agave, increase fruit intake, and try filling up on veggies and grains so that your blood sugars have a chance to stabilize, which will in-turn decrease cravings.

Keep fresh flowers in your house or at work.

Take up a hobby or continue an existing hobby, such as knitting, painting, reading, or blogging.

Research the use and/or talk to you doctor or nutritionist about taking Vitamin D, St. John's Wart, or Omega 3 supplements for mood regulation.

Consider meeting with a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to address some of the thoughts or beliefs that are leading to certain feelings or behaviors you don't like.

Take part in body, mind, and breath work, such as massages, acupuncture, yoga, or Pilates.

Collage a summer book or garden book. This can be a book full of color, filled with photos of past summers or gardens, magazine articles and prints, pressed flowers, or anything else that helps you feel alive. If you are a gardener, have catalogues around so you can start planning what seeds you’d like to plant in the spring.

Exercise. This is the hardest thing for people who struggle with SAD; however exercise can be one of the best “anti-depressants” available. Even if it is just a 10-minute walk or series of stretches, this can be enough to change our mood.

Keep plants and/or herbs on window sills.

Allow yourself to be nurtured with good books, warm tea, and supportive people who understand that this time of year is difficult for you.

Visit a botanical garden.

Consider anti-depressants if symptoms seem unmanageable or if you begin having thoughts of hurting yourself.

Try using a special Light Therapy lamp.

Label it. Sometimes just knowing why we feel the way we feel can help alleviate symptoms. Know it's not going to last forever. It's bothersome, but fixable.