Darker and shorter days are here. The time we had in spring and summer is now cut “shorter” with earlier sunsets and gloomy days. I know it effects me, although I love fall and winter foods and clothes. The further we get into winter, the worse it gets. A lot of people have been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. Most, at the least, feel the effects of winter days and notice the difference in how they feel in winter compared to summer. Is there anything you can change in your routine or diet to help? Let’s talk about a few ideas to try and a few things I know that have helped myself and my family. Then we will get into some foods you can add to your diet that are mood boosters!
Sleep – Stick to a Schedule
Sleep is an important part of any healthy routine. It decreases anxiety, helps to maintain a healthy weight, and improves our memory. Since we repair when we sleep, it’s no wonder why it helps with recovery (including in the brain), and aids our immune system by helping to take care of some inflammation in the middle of the night. In winter time it almost feels like our bodies go into hibernation mode. Sticking to a schedule of when you go to bed and when you wake up can help in general, but especially in the winter. They are saying now that sleeping more than 8 hours (when you are not sick or recovering from surgery) can be unhealthy. It messes your system up. So shoot for 7-8 hours a night, no more, no less.
When your body knows when it’s time to wake up, whether the sun is up or not, it will produce the hormones it needs to naturally wake up around the time your alarm goes off. If you are like me and already have a hard time waking up in the morning without hitting the snooze, try going to bed and waking up roughly around the same time every day, weekend days or not. Not only will your body be ready to wake up and move, but your mind will be better equipped to take on the day.
Sticking to a schedule has helped me. I noticed I’ll start waking up a few minutes before my alarm goes off, which means my body is naturally producing the hormones to wake me up. Some days, not so much. It takes time, but if you stick to it, it’s worth it. Your body naturally sticks to a schedule, and that includes sleep.
Get Sunshine Whenever You Can
Increase Your Vitamin D
I live in Texas. We get a lot of sun most of the year. And the winter isn’t that long. But when your body is used to sunny days for half the year or more and then going to rainy overcast gloomy days, 3 days of that can feel like years. It feels like a yo-yo effect some times. So whenever there is some sunshine, I try to make sure I take in every bit of it that I can. Keep the blinds open during daylight hours as much as you can. Your body wants natural light. If you can walk outside during your lunch break, go for a walk, even 5 minutes. Early afternoon time is when the sun is the brightest in winter. Even if it’s overcast. Fresh air and daylight, filtered or not, helps.
We naturally get “vitamin D” from the sunlight. There’s a whole process that our bodies go through that takes the sunlight, transforms it into something we can store, and then when needed activates it to what we call vitamin D, so that we can use it inside our bodies. Just like plants, we need our sunlight. When the sunlight is restricted, taking vitamin D supplements helps. It can help to improve your mood during those months that you can’t get as much sun as your body became use to in summer. If you already take vitamin D, talk to your doctor about if you should increase the dose in the winter if you don’t already do so.
Start a Project and Plan Ahead
Keep your mind active. Become creative. Start a hobby. Have something to look forward to doing other than sitting and watching TV when you get home. Do something with your hands while you stay warm inside with a cup of tea. Also, staying proactive with planning outings like dinners, movies, inviting people over, and so on, can help. Stay active and don’t close yourself off too much. I’m the type of person that needs to have some time alone to recharge, especially in winter, but too much of anything can be bad. Keep your balance.
You can even plan a vacation during winter months just to get away from the norm. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but getting out of your normal routine and away, even a day trip, can give your brain the rest it needs from the every day stresses that are at home.
Bright colors are known as happy colors because they can brighten our mood. Having clothes with colors other than grey and black is part of it. Or, if your like me who wears a lot of black already, add the color in jewelry, scarves, etc. Keep bright colors in your house too. Fresh flowers in the kitchen or in the bedroom when you wake up can stimulate your brain and start off your day with a positive attitude.
I usually try to have a small vase, like the one in the picture, in the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. It doesn’t take much and you can buy a bouquet at the grocery store and have the flowers spread throughout the house. It’s something little but once I started doing it the more I loved it and the more I missed it if I didn’t have some sort of fresh flowers in the house.
Just because it’s colder outside doesn’t mean you can’t move. That’s something I have to repeatedly tell myself in winter. Even if it’s inside, keep some sort of an exercise routine. Exercise helps our health in many ways, but specifically for what we are talking about, it elevates your mood because it helps our bodies produce endorphins. Then there is the fact that in the winter we eat heavier foods, so exercising helps our bodies digest and feel better although we might of had a huge pile of mashed potatoes at dinner. When I feel light instead of sluggish or bloated, I feel better about myself which adds to the positive attitude we need in winter.
This is probably the hardest one for me because I can’t stand being cold. And thinking about going outside in the cold to do something that already is hard to get my mind to accept is even harder. Having others with you helps. But even if it’s just a 10 minute walk or jog around the block everyday whenever you can fit it in, helps.
Winter Mood Foods
Here are some foods you can add to your diet in winter or have as your snack after lunch time to help make sure your body and brain are getting the right “feel good” nutrients.
To Increase Omega 3s and help with brain function
- Flax Seeds
Increase Folic Acid to help increase Serotonin
- Leafy greens
- Sunflower seeds
Increase Trytophan to help increase Serotonin and Melatonin
- Dark Chocolate
It’s not a cure, but doing these things and adding more of these foods in your diet can help.
Stay warm, well fed, stay active, and sleep well this winter season!