With approximately a week and a half under our belts since ‘falling back’ to Standard time, we’re just now adjusting to getting up in the dark and coming home from work in the dark. The urge to ‘cocoon’ is great - at least for myself! - burrowing in for a few more minutes in the morning, or snuggling down with a cozy throw in the evening to keep warm indoors, while nights get colder and darker outside. No surprise that it’s the significantly reducing amount of sunlight as the days shorten, and then losing that extra hour of daylight that can trigger a lethargic feeling and the impulse to hibernate.
In Scandinavia, during the long and dark winter months of the year, Scandinavians traditionally try to interject as much light as possible into their lives. The Lucia festival, which happens on December 13th every year, is just one example of this; but light doesn’t just mean actual light, it also means comfort, joy and well-being. It is a philosophy and way of living that consistently lands the Scandinavian countries on the Top 10 list of the happiest people on earth, and something we perhaps might consider striving toward!
If colder weather and shorter days are causing you to feel the ‘winter blues’ like our Northern neighbours, you’re not alone! During the cold, dreary months in the midst of our Canadian winter season, it’s not uncommon to experience fatigue, sadness, difficulty concentrating, and a disruption in sleep schedules. However, there are ways to rally and inject the components of comfort, joy and well-being into your life! And we want to help you pre-empt any of those feelings with a number of strategies outlined below.
We are a social species, but at this time of year it’s sometimes difficult to remember! However, we can push through those lethargic feelings and rally, with a few researched and tested strategies listed below.
Regular sleep routine and schedule
Exercise – keep active!
Follow a Balanced Diet (boost your mood with the right food)
Take Vitamins (Vitamin D)
Seek out the Sun – get outside and maximize natural light therapy
Surround yourself with Good People
Manage your Screen Time – take a break from the News
Take up a New Hobby/Make evening plans and commit in advance
Nurture your Spirit and Stimulate your Senses
Spend time by a Fire
Use a Light lamp (the kind SAD folks use, if all else fails)
Let’s detail each of these various ways to balance the urge to just head home and hibernate:
1. Regular Sleep Routine and Schedule
Sleep is a big component of mood, as, without adequate regular sleep, psychologist Kelly Donahue, PhD says our circadian rhythm can get disrupted. This disruption then disrupts cortisol rhythms and impacts hormone production. To improve sleep Donohue recommends:
Go to sleep and wake up ath the same time every day
Follow a simple bed time routine that signals rest to the body, such as taking a bath, turning down the lights, drinking a cup of herbal tea
Expose yourself to light as soon as you wake up
Sleep in a cool, dark room
Don’t use electronics in your bedroom
Write any worry thoughts on a piece of paper before bed, so if you wake up in the night, you can tell your mind that everything is recorded to be dealt with in the morning
Exercise relieves stress, builds energy and increases mental and physical well-being. Getting at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity four times a week has been shown to reduce depressive mood, according to Dr. Jacqueline Gollan, PhD professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. And there are a variety of ways to get exercise, she points out. Get a gym membership if that’s what it takes to keep you warm and working out, but you could also try running up and down the stairs. If twenty or thirty minutes feels like too much to start, try breaking it down to 2X10 or 3X10 – two or three mini-workouts of ten minutes each throughout the day.
3. Follow a Balanced Diet
Healthy eating has been shown to benefit mental as well as physical health. Consuming protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner can enhance mood and prevent sugar and carb cravings later in the day. Balance your craving for carbohydrates such as pasta and potatoes with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Also, including foods high in Vitamin D such as fatty fish, fish oil, and Vitamin D fortified foods like milk, breakfast cereal, yoghurt and other food sources can help balance mood according to the National Institues of Health.
4. Take Vitamins
Make sure you are taking a multi-vitamin, this time of year, and perhaps a Vitamin D supplement if you are not getting enough in your diet. Consider consulting with your doctor to determine if there is a particular supplement you may need to make sure your system is balanced and healthy. A vitamin deficiency may be the cause of inconsistent moods or fatigue.
5. Keep warm
According to the NHS Health Scotland, being cold makes you more depressed. It’s also been shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes and aim to keep your home between 18 and 21 degrees Centigrade (or 64- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit). You can also enjoy a wide selection of Pokoloko alpaca sweaters and accessories, available at Cottage Culture, to help keep you warm.
6. Seek out the Sun
Give yourself every opportunity for daylight, even when inside, such as by placing your chair, kitchen table, workstation or exercise equipment near a window. And getting outside needs to be a priority during the winter months – soaking up the sun even in winter temperatures is critical. (Melrose S. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches.). Finally, if time and budget allow, plan a midwinter visit to a warmer, sunnier climate; it will give you something to look forward to and it will address your Vitamin D deficiency.
7. Fresh Air
Even though it’s cold outside, bundle up and make sure to get some fresh air. Getting fresh air increases your energy, reduces stress and improves the quality of sleep – so make it a point to go outside and go for a walk! Plus, try to go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days.
8. Surround yourself with Good People
Loneliness and isolation tend to make the effects of the winter blues worse. That’s why your personal support system, which may include friends, family and co-workers should be on speed dial. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that human contact and socialization are important to our mental health. And when you are dealing with the winter blues, finding a way to spend time with supportive people is key to boosting your mood. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you go for only a short time. Activities may include walks outdoors, talking on the phone, visiting a local exhibit, trying out a new restaurant or coffee dates (virtual or in person).
9. Manage your screen time
Being indoors more often in cold weather tends to mean an increase in screen time, whether spent watching television, looking at our computer screen or playing on our phone. Too much screen time diminishes mood, builds fatigue and creates too many distractions. Plus, if this time is spent consuming a non-stop news cycle, you may feel an increase in the winter blues, stress or despair from the news. So, try to limit the amount of time spent in front of a screen, and if possible, schedule one hour to consume news, whether in one sitting or broken up in chunks.
10. Take up a new hobby/make evening plan
Keeping your mind active with a new interest seems to ward off symptoms of SAD, says Sue Pavlovich of the UK organization, Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA). It could be anything, such as playing bridge, singing, knitting, joining a gym or writing a blog. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on.
11. Home activities
Cooking, reading, watching enjoyable shows or participating in family games – crokinole is making a comeback! – are all easy and enjoyable home activities, which give you something to plan and look forward to, whether for yourself or the whole family.
12. Nurture your Spirit and Stimulate your senses
Slow down and curl up in a cozy chair with a good book or write in a journal. Some people find that painting their walls – or even their nails - a bright colour can improve their outlook. Scents, as well, can add to your feelings of well-being – try peppermint or citrus essential oil or some other energizing scent.
13. Spend time by a fire
According to a study from the University of Alabama, sitting by a fire decreases blood pressure and helps you relax. The warmth, the cracking sounds, the smoky smell and light of a natural fire help soothe and comfort especially when it is cold. Cottage Culture has lovely Iron Embers firepits to facilitate building that mood-lifting natural fire, along with cozy throws to help keep you warm
14. Light Lamp
If you don’t find relief from some of the more low-level interventions, you may want to consider light therapy, which some people find effective for seasonal depression.
I hope that these helpful pointers will be useful and aid you in enjoying the winter months. this year. ."As my mohter always said, "this too shall pass." Before you know it spring will be here and you will be planning your nexr Summer adventure!