In nature, winter is a time of slowing down; a time of hibernation. There is less sunlight, colder temperatures, and a tendency to want to curl up and stay put. This is how we are built, but our modern lives don’t always allow for these natural tendencies which emerge in response to the shift in season.
As we continue to push forward, we can become run down and more susceptible to illness, depression and fatigue. Add the activity of the holidays; manageability can become extremely challenging.
Through assessment, counseling and education we can help individuals with mood instability, anxiety, overeating, and addictive behavior. Click here to read more.
Serotonin: The Fuel that Keeps us Going
Serotonin is a brain chemical which is essential to but not limited to sleep, mood, appetite, energy levels and other functions in the body involving sex drive, memory, attention, pain, digestion and immunity. In order to have enough serotonin to support these functions, the brain has to produce it every day on a consistent basis.
If we have too little or too much serotonin we become, irritable, depressed, anxious, or develop food cravings for carbohydrates. In order to cope with changes in mood, we tend to then choose behaviors which are not always helpful to our health, but serve as an attempt to balance ourselves biochemically in the interest of “feeling better.”
We can take some steps towards inoculating ourselves against stress and illness through becoming aware of our habits of daily living and making some minor adjustments. Click here to contact us for more information.
Challenges of Winter
We don’t always associate the environment, including season change as a form of stress. However, changes which happen outside deeply affect us on the inside. Just like the rest of nature we start to prepare for the approaching winter months.
Our bodies start preferring and requiring different foods and routines as they integrate these environmental shifts, such as:
- Decreased Sunlight.
- Less Physical activity.
- Need for More Sleep.
- Food Cravings.
- Life stress.
Decreased Sunlight. Sunlight is the building block of all life; the baseline of our functioning enabling us to regulate biochemically. Sunlight helps produce a chemical called melatonin. The more melatonin we have the more serotonin can be produced – the better we feel. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can develop in response to the decrease of sunlight that comes with winter due to shorter days and the hesitance to go out into the cold.
Less Physical activity. Exercise boosts endorphins and in turn elevates serotonin. This reduces our stress and tension. It also provides oxygen to all our muscles and prompts blood flow. When we are sedentary we tend isolate and shut down. Movement keeps us alert and engaged, promoting a sense of well-being.
Need for More Sleep. The average American is sleep deprived. Most health conditions are aggravated by insufficient sleep. Add the distress that comes with colder weather we become extremely vulnerable, hence serotonin levels can become depleted. Serotonin is produced during that deep stage of sleep called REM, when we dream. Insomnia or restrictive sleep patterns impact the “re-fueling” of serotonin as well as reducing our bodies “healing” time during the night when it restores itself. We may notice an increased need for sleep in the winter months. With the reduction of sunlight, this may be nature’s way ensuring that serotonin gets replenished.
Food Cravings. When it is cold outside the body may hunger for ‘comfort foods’ which tend to include carbohydrates. Carbohydrates offer a “quick boost” in serotonin, however, in excess this can develop into compulsive overeating, weight gain and depression. Again, with less sunlight, movement and sleep, the body strives towards balancing itself through the most readily available means, which often involve carbohydrates.
Life stress. Each person’s tolerance for stress is different. It is important to know our unique threshold. When we are more sensitive to stress we use more energy to live. When we add in the factors that impact our energy with season change, we can experience a significant “dip” in mood and functioning. Life stress and the emotions involved are often the precursors to illness and relapse into depressed mood and other chronic conditions.
10 Tools to Protect Your Health and Well Being
- Get some sunshine.
- Exercise / move.
- Get more sleep.
- Eat Well.
- Bundle up.
- Celebrate the season.
- Create soothing daily rituals.
- Social Supports.
- Quiet time.
Get some sunshine. Get outdoors. Layer up with clothing, and stay warm, but be outside a bit each day. Keep your shades at home and at the office up. Sit near windows. Change the light bulbs in your home to “full spectrum bulbs” which mimic sunlight.
Exercise / move. Exercise does not necessarily need to involve sweating. A short brisk walk, stretching or even a 20 minute yoga tape will do. Step out of the office a couple times of day and get some air, stretch or do a lap around the property or parking lot. The idea is to keep moving.
Get more sleep. Adding that extra hour by going to be earlier can make all the difference. Break the habit of zoning out later in the evening. Turn off the television or shut down the computer by 9pm. Taking a short half an hour nap on the weekend can also help.
Eat Well. Avoid packaged snacks, white flour and sugar. Make sure that you get enough protein and complex carbohydrates; green leafy vegetables, brown rice, potatoes, and whole grains. Drink water and stay away from alcohol. Choose a select few recipes which appeal to your palate and nutritional needs – Master them.
Supplements. If you are vulnerable to colds, flus and sinus infection see your doctor or nutritionist about supplements; Probiotic, Vitamin C, Omegas, Vitamin B-6 and garlic.
Bundle up. Wear appropriate clothing; scarf, hat and gloves. Cold weather puts stress on the body; it needs to be equipped to withstand the elements.
Celebrate the season. Each season has positive things to offer; holidays, activities, foods, and events. Acknowledge the arrival of the season by placing a seasonally appropriate wreath on the door. Enhance the aesthetics of your home with a bouquet of the greens or floral of winter. Light an aromatic candle of the season, such as evergreen or cinnamon.
Create soothing daily rituals. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning. Start your day with a satisfying and hearty breakfast of perhaps, homemade oatmeal, nuts, dates, and or fruits. Or, prepare your oatmeal in the crockpot the night before adding the ingredients that you like, perhaps add apples. Wake up to feeling like you are at a Bed and Breakfast. Light a candle in the kitchen to add to a sense of warmth, comfort and home. This can be pleasant and relaxing in the morning or in the evening.
Social Supports. Get out and be with positive people. See friends and family. Make plans to meet for a coffee or tea, a walk or a movie. Email is not socializing!
Quiet time. Make time each day to do nothing. That may include sitting and meditating, reading a magazine or book or watching a movie. Doing nothing can be everything when we allow ourselves to calm down by choice; not zoning out.