Seasonally Affected

The winter can bring a lot of things with it.  Holidays, snow, fireplaces, hot chocolate, good food, and time off.  It can also, for some, bring the need for more sleep, decreased energy, and feeling "off."  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 affects us more than we realize. 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 can 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 CBT or mindfulness to gains some coping skills with thoughts/feelings you are having. 

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. For the lamp, place it about a foot away from your eyes and it should emit 10,000 lux of full-spectrum light. Try to sit in it for as long as 30 minutes as early in the day as possible.  

Water therapy.  Pounding water creates negative ions, which can improve our energy, mood, and stress levels.  This means longer showers, listening to  a stream/river, a whirlpool, or a mountain retreat.

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.

Tonics.   These are warm, creamy drinks that I make in the morning and sip throughout the day.  I add herbal or green tea, functional mushrooms/adaptogens (reishi, chaga, ashwagandha, lions mane, etc) for natural lifts, to stabilize adrenals, and for decreasing stress.  I add cacao (vasodilator and superfood), maca (great for hormone balancing), and frothed/blended nut milk.  Then I sweeten with agave, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or Stevia.  Sometimes I spice it up with cardamom and cinnamon.  I make it differently everyday! It's nurturing, warm, and especially good for people trying to stay away from or decrease caffeine.  

A revised/adapted blog entry from Winter Resilience .