Ten Mind/body and holistic ways to beat the winter blues
Waiting for warmth for a month and a day
Droplets of sun graze through snow-drenched branches
A plush towel as you begrudgingly step out of the shower
That envelops you with tenderness and comfort
Telling you that you can start your day
The kettle screeching, mug awaiting, aromas blending
Waiting for warmth as you take that first achingly good sip.
We wait, we wait, and we wait for warmth.
– by Jenny Berk
I wrote this poem towards the end of 2015’s seemingly inexorable winter – feeling loathsome and frustrated at my inability to feel comfortable and warm for so many months. Some people call this experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), or the winter blues – and certainly not everyone experiences this. Some people do, to varying degrees. Others travel vast distances toward the south just to avoid this melancholy state, and others white-knuckle it through to the spring. Each year, I employ new techniques in the hope of sailing through winter unscathed physically in the form of cold/flu, as well as mentally in terms of fatigue, lack of motivation and industriousness. I’m not going so far as to say I’ve completely beat it this year, but these 10 strategies below go beyond the typical physician strategies of light therapy and antidepressants and have helped me considerably this year. I hope they help you too! Let me know how they work for you!
- Get out in nature – Bundle up and enjoy the crisp air. Build snowmen and make snow angels. Winter hikes can be beautiful and just admiring the formation of icicles and snow on trees can help us get into a more positive frame of mind. Find happiness in the mundane.
“Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad,
Whatever is done and suffered by her creatures.
All scars she heals,
whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.”
- Go to hot yoga – Nothing warms me more or makes me feel more grounded and anchored than yoga. Especially hot yoga. Something about sweating profusely actually makes you feel incredibly cleansed and uh, warm to say the least. It’s so nice that upon leaving, the cool air hitting my face is a glorious, welcome feeling that I invite.
- Eat “grounding” foods – Eating foods that are aligned with what our local and seasonal offerings provide makes sense. It’s also what our bodies crave during this time to feel warm and nourished. Grounding foods include root vegetables, soups and stews, certain herbs, meats and poultry, nuts and legumes. Try this recipe for a comforting, warming meal in winter.
- Have an eating rhythm consistent with when the sun is highest in the sky – The Europeans have it right. They tend to eat their biggest meal of the day while the sun is at its highest and have a light simple supper before bed when our metabolic functioning slows down in anticipation of sleep, where growth and repair occur. To amplify metabolism and digestion in the winter months, eat your largest meal between 12-2 pm and eat lightly as the sun sets. This will help with digestion and sleep, which, of course, informs mood and energy level.
- Increase your NEAT – NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It’s basically all the calories you burn by fidgeting and walking and moving around more, non-exercise related. In the winter, our NEAT goes way down. We’ll drive to do an errand rather than walk, we don’t fidget as much and we are more prone to cozying up by the TV rather than going out dancing or doing something active. Because of that, we have to proactively and purposefully increase our NEAT in the winter to help reclaim some of our energy! Here is a great article to give you ideas on how to do this.
- Nurture creative outlets – Writing helps me a lot in the winter. But any creative outlet, be it cooking, singing, taking courses that are exciting and help you grow or even seeing more Broadway shows and movies can help with winter blues. Stay busy and active and hone your creative gifts.
- Stay in the present – find gratefulness now – I always used to spend winter dreaming about the future when it would be warm, when I’d have more energy and feel better. I no longer do that. I invite myself to be grateful in the present, which allows me to appreciate all of the minute little joys I overlook when I’m not present. The beauty of snow, the joy in a little mug of hot chocolate, etc.
In the depths of winter,
I finally realized that deep within me
there lay an Invincible Summer.
– Albert Camus
- Take vitamin D supplements, get out in sunshine or eat more vitamin D rich foods – Our natural vitamin D is depleted in the winter and we need this fat-soluble vitamin to feel our best as it helps regulate our hormones and thyroid functioning. Without a normal amount of vitamin D, we can experience more mood swings, fatigue and muscle weakness.
- Learn to love what is
We must live through the dreary winter
If we would value the spring;
And the woods must be cold and silent
Before the robins sing.
The flowers must be buried in darkness
Before they can bud and bloom,
And the sweetest, warmest sunshine
Comes after the storm and gloom.
10. Allow yourself to eat pleasurable foods and even indulge sometimes. – We spend too much time trying to “diet” in winter to get ready for our bikini bodies. However, actually inviting pleasure into our eating and occasionally savoring and truly enjoying rich, decadent foods can give us satisfaction for our senses when we can’t experience it as much from the weather. The “cephalic” phase of digestion – the aroma, anticipation of, sight and initial taste of food – helps secrete digestive and gastric enzymes that aid in digestion and give us that feeling of satiety. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you eat so much of these kinds of foods that you feel sluggish, guilty and heavy. Just enough to excite your palate; give you energy and experience pleasure with an indulgent treat.