It’s cold outside and warm in bed. For many of us, motivation is at an all-time low during the colder months. The dog is asleep by the fireplace and the kids are still in their pyjama’s at midday watching cartoons. You are contemplating making yourself a healthy salad for lunch but something warm and unhealthy seems way more appealing and besides, you haven’t done a grocery shop in a while. Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. You, along with many others, might be experiencing the ‘winter blues’. Rest easy! There are many reasons why you might be feeling this way.
Vitamin D Deficiency Caused by Less Sunlight
Winter weather means less sunlight. A reduction in sunlight can affect the body’s internal body clock which can lead to low mood. When circadian rhythms are out of whack the body stops producing adequate melatonin. This can have a negative impact on sleep. No sunshine can result in disturbed sleeping patterns and a lack of sleep can equate to low mood.
Also, when we are not exposed to as much sunlight our bodies produce less serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that also affects mood. Cold weather has a tendency to keep us indoors. Even when we do go out, we are usually rugged up in winter clothing so whatever sunlight is available cannot penetrate our skin. Our vitamin D receptors need to be exposed to work efficiently. Vitamin D deficiency is much more common during winter.
Low Mood Caused by Less Socialising
More time at home means less socialising with our friends and loved ones. The morning walks with friends have been put on hold until the weather warms up. No more trips to the beach and it’s just too cold for Friday night catch-ups at your local restaurant. Staying connected socially is much more common practice in the warmer months. We tend to become hermits in winter. Feeling that disconnect can intensify feelings of isolation and loneliness.
More Coughs, Colds and Flu
Winter can often mean more ‘cold and flu bugs’ circulating around work, home and school. If your immune system is already compromised, then you might be more likely to get sick, which in turn can lead to time off. Time off can be stressful and further isolating. Feeling sick only makes your general mood worse and your motivation non-existent - definitely not great for your winter wellness.
Bad Eating Habits
In winter, our diet tends to change. We crave warmer, carb-rich foods, which aren’t always the healthiest options. We tend to eat more for ‘comfort’ and less for health.
Well put simply, when it’s still dark outside in the early morning and it’s really toasty in bed, it’s a big ask to pop on the Lorna Janes and hit the pavement for a morning jog. It is much more inviting to sleep in until the last moment possible and then swiftly transition to a warm shower.
So, with all these hurdles in mind, what can we do to give ourselves the best possible chance of beating the winter blues and improving our winter wellness?
Here are my Top 5 Essential Pick Me Ups for Winter.
Step Outside for Better Winter Health
OK! So sunlight is drastically reduced, and we are not absorbing as much vitamin D, but we still need to get outside and breath in the beautiful, fresh air to clear our head and awake our senses. In winter, so many indoor environments are artificially heated. They are breeding grounds for germs and increased feelings of lethargy. A gentle walk in the crisp winter air will do you the world of good. It will wake you up and help your concentration moving forward for the rest of the day.
Why not change your daily walking routine to lunchtime when it’s warmer? If you work full-time, use your lunch break. Or if you’re still too busy, make it an absolute MUST on the weekends. Take advantage of the winter sun. On the warmer days expose your skin, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.
If you live in super cold climates, then it might be a good idea to increase your foods that are high in vitamin D during the winter months. These include; salmon, mackerel, tuna, mushrooms, cheese, milk and egg yolks. If these foods do not appeal to you, talk to your Naturopath about vitamin D supplementation.
Start to Socialise
Your social life plays a huge role in your health and wellbeing. Sadly, this tends to fall away during the winter months. Socialising is incredibly important as it brings us so much joy. It keeps us active and it helps to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean we can’t stay socially active.
Why not start a ‘book club’ or a weekly commitment of some kind that keeps you socially accountable during winter? Also, take advantage of winter activities that you can do with your friends. Holidays to warmer parts of the globe, ice skating, movie nights, bonfires, dinner parties at home, tickets to winter sporting events or even just a weekly coffee catch up.
Staying connected will help to keep your mood elevated. When your mood is high you are more energised and more likely to stay active.
Prepare Your Immune System Before Winter
Nothing makes you feel worse in winter than being sick with a head cold, a sore throat or worst of all, the flu. There are many things you can do to prevent this from happening. Make sure you head into winter feeling fit and well. Use supplements such as vitamin C and zinc to build a more resilient immune system.
Eat loads of foods that are high in essential nutrients, make sure you stay hydrated, stay active, manage your sleep and minimise your stress levels. If you can get this balance right, you will enter winter with much more resilience.
Check out our article It's Never Too Late to Plan for Cold and Flu Season; for more information. Don’t underestimate the power of preparation. Good immunity is something that needs your attention all year round and will improve your winter wellness.
Eat Well to Stay Well in Winter
Diet plays a huge role in your overall health and wellbeing. In winter, food tends to be served hot and in bigger quantities as we deem it to be more ‘comforting’. The trick here is to replace your shepherd’s pie and mashed potatoes with warm comforting stews, soups and broths.
Stews and curries can be prepared ahead of time and will keep for a few days in the fridge. Take advantage of this healthy and easy option. Load your soups full of veggies and spices such as saffron and turmeric and sit back and enjoy the health benefits. Soups are portable, healthy and hydrating. Bone broth can help to seal and repair openings in the gut that can lead to compromised immunity.
A healthy and intact gut lining means a more robust immune system. When preparing your vegetables in winter, try not to overcook them. Serve them raw or lightly steamed to take full advantage of all the nutrients they have to offer. Try adding in some herbal tea to the mix and be mindful of alcohol consumption. This tends to gradually increase when the weather is colder.
Enjoy a glass of red wine by the fire, just don’t go nuts! Keep in mind moderation and balance are key.
Enjoy Some Exercise in Winter
Ok, so it might be too dark and too cold to go for a morning jog or swim laps in the ocean but why not try changing things up a bit and enrol in a group activity such as hot yoga? Or perhaps, join a gym and take advantage of the many classes and indoor facilities. Group classes are a great way to stay motivated, accountable and most importantly, warm during the colder months.
We all love exercising in the great outdoors, but during winter, consistency is equally as important. Regular exercise helps to maintain a robust immune system and healthy energy levels - keeping your winter wellness in peak condition.
Exercise is the perfect antidote to stress and feelings of low mood. Nothing removes cortisol from the bloodstream faster than exercise. If you are feeling blue this winter, start by just putting on your exercise clothes. It’s amazing how this simple step will motivate you to do a workout.
So there you have it! Make THIS the winter that you adopt some necessary ‘pick me ups’ to enjoy better winter wellness.
Take care of yourself and remember to rest and repair if you need to. Don’t push too hard. Be kind to yourself. Health and wellbeing will be yours for the taking with a little self-love and self-care.