Six tips to avoid the winter blues
Anyone else out there starting to feel just a tad more tired lately? A lot more tired lately? Is the hibernation siren song playing it’s forlorn melody in your ear? As we head towards darker, colder months, many of us tend to experience a lowered level or hormones due to lack of sunlight. Full blown seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD (pretty apropos, right?), can really have devastating effects on a person, and should be addressed by a medical professional. But how about those of us that experience a milder case of the winter blues? We don’t feel great, but we can still function.
There are steps you can start taking now to help your mind and body function at healthy levels during the dark and cold months ahead.
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We’ve all been told on a pretty regular basis how important exercise is for our bodies, but it’s as equally important for our brains. Yep, that same organ that directs us HOW to exercise benefits from the reactions it has to us exercising. Exercising actually causes neuron growth and repair, and releases mood enhancing chemicals that make those darker days seem a little less stressful. One of the biggest hurdles is staying motivated during the late fall and winter. My advice? Join an exercise group, whether it’s a class at a local gym, or a group you put together yourself. Create accountability. Introduce yourself to the class instructor. Tell your friends you’re setting a goal, and ask a friend to join you in it. Create ease. Join a gym close to your work or home, so you don’t have to go too far out of your way to get there. Create motivation. Think about all the good regular exercise will bring about for you; happy brain, possible weight-loss, gained strength, and facing a challenge head on.
If you want to take it a step further for your brain, be sure to incorporate exercise that stimulates your brain too, like dancing or circuit training, which involves balance and coordination.
2. Eat well
Kind of a no brainer, but during the winter we all tend to start craving warm, carb rich food. But think about it, this time of year was when our distant ancestors knew they were in for tough times, thus were driven to consume all they could to hopefully make it through the lean months. No wonder we want to shove our faces full of pumpkin pie lattes and sugar cookies. But those foods don’t create positive chemical reactions in our bodies. Quite the opposite, they send our bodies into crisis mode, working desperately to control the sugar spike with insulin and the acid spike with calcium and glutamine (which our body has to steal from our bones and muscles). Providing healthy foods as fuel for your body creates an environment your brain can thrive on. AND, it gives your body the tools to handle a nutritional crisis (hello second slice of pumpkin pie) without having to deplete too much from different systems. Plus, it stimulates better mood.
Once you get into the habit of eating well, it’s hard to fall out of. You crave more nutritional food, and thus junky food just doesn’t make it onto your plate as often.
3. Try something new
Did you know that trying something new, no matter how small, stimulates dopamine production in your brain? Even using your non dominant hand to perform a task, say brushing your teeth, can have an effect. Asking your brain to create a new habit means new neuro-transmitters have to be created. That takes chemicals, and good chemicals at that. I’ve wanted to learn a second language for a very long time, and this just might be the winter to do it!
4. Take Vitamin D
Normally the ball of fire in the sky we call the sun makes our body produce vitamin D, but our skin has to be exposed to the sun for that to happen. I don’t know about you, but during the winter months the only skin I ever expose to the sun is my facial skin, and usually for shorter lengths of time, plus I wear sunscreen on my face. So taking a Vitamin D supplement might be key in keeping your mind and body in a happy place over the winter months. This is especially true if your skin is dark, because the darker your skin, the less vitamin D you produce naturally from sunshine. Vitamin D deficiency, which many medical experts believe is pretty rampant among us now, has been linked to depression. So when you can’t get it from nature, take it in supplement form.
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5. Schedule fun meetups with friends
I belong to a movie club. Once a month, always on the 3rd Thursday, we meet up after work for a movie and dinner. Having something scheduled like this gives me the motivation to get out and do something fun, rather than hiding out at home in my pj’s on the couch. I also belong to a friendly flag football league (friendly as in it’s just friends). We get together on a scheduled Sunday every month, play flag football, and perhaps go out for a beer or two afterwards. Knowing that these events are scheduled gives me something to look forward to, and hanging out with friends always gives my brain a boost. The skies the limit on this one, the meetup can be related to books, movies, knitting, food (how about a brunch club?), exercise or sports, crafts. The point is to just get out and socialize. Plus, having something scheduled out on your calendar can make the time pass more quickly, and spring will be here again before you know it!
6. Give your brain a break from the tube
Laptops too. This can be a tough time of year to turn the television off at night. But if you’re like me, you find yourself curled up into a complacent mass of mush on the couch, staying up too late but having a hard time turning your mind off once in bed. But what to do if you’re not watching reruns of Honey Boo Boo or getting the crap scared out of you by American Horror Story on Netflix? Well, there’s books. Pre-holidays you can start getting crafty and making fun present toppers while listening to a favorite album. Plus, there are great thought provoking podcasts out there from radio programs like Radiolab and This American Life. Give your brain, and eyes, a break from digital stimulants, even if it’s just a few nights a week.
Got any tips or tricks you use to avoid the winter blues? Please share them in the comments!