Do You Dread Maine Winters?
I used to as well. I thought some people were either ‘built for’ winter and liked it – and the rest of us. Naturally, we all slow down during the winter months. This slowing down can sometimes feel like being down and we are generally less motivated. For some people, however, the natural withdrawal of winter can feel quite intense, or even lead to an incapacitating depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
It’s incredibly common to hear someone say that they are getting in shape for the summer, but no one ever says, “I want to get in shape for winter.” We just sort of laze into the season, exhausted from the holiday rush, dreading the next 4 months. We can feel stuck in a cycle of lethargy, not sure how to best help ourselves, and unsure if we even have the energy to try.
The problem isn’t you. It’s important to remember that this slowing down is necessary and by design. Despite what our hustle culture signals to us, westerners easily ‘forget’ that we are an integral part of our environment. It is perfectly normal to be affected by the seasons and we can adjust our behavior in response to seasonal changes without beating ourselves up or being miserable. We should plan on adjusting our behavior each season. Armed with the right knowledge, you can implement easy practices and make yourself less susceptible to the winter blues – and even, enjoy your entire winter season!
Good health is supported by a good diet. Whether you have mild winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder, one may crave carbohydrates in the form of starches and sweets. These tasty bits raise your blood sugar quickly, but then comes the crash, fatigue, and mood swings. Avoid them altogether, or eat foods made from whole grains instead of white flour. Proteins such as nuts, fish, meats, and small amounts of fat are more filling and don’t create the insulin spikes the carbs and simple sugars cause. Eat lots of vegetables and dark leafy greens too!
Here are 6 nutrients that can also help ward off seasonal depression:
- Vitamin D3 – Your body produces Vitamin D from sunlight exposure, so supplementing it during winter months is essential. Research has shown it to be helpful for general immune support.
- Omega-3 is also an essential fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon & tuna, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils. Omega-3 EFAs act to support brain function and stabilize your mood.
- Vitamin B6 helps with stress response, nervousness, and insomnia. Good sources include cereals, beans, meat and poultry, fish, bananas, and nuts.
- Magnesium balances blood sugar levels. Foods containing magnesium include nuts, spinach, oatmeal, dark chocolate, and whole-grain loaves of bread. You can also add Magnesium Citrate or Magnesium Glycerinate supplements to your daily routine.
- L-tyrosine is an amino acid affecting many neurotransmitters that regulate emotions. This nutrient may help alleviate SAD symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, stress, and frustration. L-tyrosine is in meats, dairy products, fish, whole grain, and oats.
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid) helps your body convert food into energy and a high percentage of depression sufferers have low levels. Foods containing folic acid include spinach, dark leafy greens, soybeans, kidney beans, white beans, lima beans, mung beans, salmon, orange juice, avocado, and whole grains, and fortified cereals.
MAKE DAILY MOVEMENT NON-NEGOTIABLE IN YOUR LIFE
It doesn’t matter which activity you choose, just make sure you move your body for a minimum of 20 minutes each day. It is this simple. It can be walking the dog, doing yoga, lifting weights, or hopping on a treadmill. Better yet, bundle up and get a bit of exercise outdoors on the days when it is feasible to increase sunlight exposure. Create a daily routine for yourself that you can stick to. Aerobic exercise increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps stabilize mood and has an anti-inflammatory effect by stimulating immune cell production.
CREATE A GRATITUDE PRACTICE
I saved the best – and easiest- solution for last. If you haven’t yet tried the life-altering practice of gratitude, you are in for something magical. The effects of attitude on our mental and emotional health cannot be ignored. A gratitude practice is more than just saying thank you or randomly noticing things you are grateful for – it is an intentional, focused activity. If done consistently, it will change your entire life perspective. Most people never get started as they underestimate the profound positive benefits this practice can create and they often don’t know where to start.
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
– Willie Nelson
I recommend fully committing to doing this practice daily for two weeks to get the habit in motion. By the end of the second week, you won’t want to stop! Plus, Winter is a great time to start this practice. Cozy up with some tea and a notebook and get ready for some magic.
Write down 5 things you are thankful for in your life. It can be anything from your morning cup of coffee to being grateful just to be alive – and the way that you frame it matters. You not only list what you are grateful for but the reason why you are grateful for it. The why is a super important part of this practice. You can be grateful to the Universe, God, goodness, life, your higher self, or any other concept you are drawn to.
Here are ways to write your list:
- I am truly blessed to have __________, because ______________.
- I am so happy and grateful for ______, because _______________.
- I am truly grateful for _____________, because _______________.
- With all my heart, thank you for _____, because ______________.
Subjects to ignite ideas
- Health & body
- Work & success
- Relationships, Family, Pets
- Food, Money
- Nature, plants, planet earth, air, water, sun, moon
- Material goods and services
- Art, Books, Learning
- Literally anything
Once you have your 5 gratitude statements written down, the next step is to read them aloud to yourself. This step is critical in my experience. There is something about saying and hearing the words that tune you into this experience. Don’t skip this part!
This part is quick and easy. It’s a great way to wrap up your day and keep you in a state of gratitude throughout the day. Reflect on the day in search of the best thing that happened that day. You will inevitably notice multiple good things to be grateful for during this process; when you name the best thing – simply say thank you.
Doing these practices every morning and evening for 2 weeks can change your life, just like it did for me! If you want more ideas on how to incorporate gratitude practices in your life, I recommend reading the book The Magic, by Rhonda Byrne. The practices above are adapted from her book.
These recommendations are good for everyone. But for those of us who really suffer, these steps can make all the difference. As with many health concerns, a range of small lifestyle modifications is the way to make meaningful change. By implementing the recommendations above, you can enjoy better relationships and increased energy, happiness, and contentment all winter long.
If you need an extra boost in the winter and could use more support, reach out. Acupuncture and herbal medicine have been helping to battle the winter blues for centuries. It’s something I treat at the clinic frequently with great results.