I want to take ten minutes of your time to discuss something real. This will make you all tingly inside if you are a Game of Thrones fan, but reality is… Winter is coming.
What does that mean? Well, the days are starting to get shorter by the second, the degrees will soon plummet into the single digits, and for some of us, our everyday mood will be taking a turn for the worse. And when our mood dampens and priorities start to shift, we start to see this reverse effect of all the progress we’ve worked so hard to make during the summer.
Does this hit home for you? Are you sitting there thinking, “Yep.”? Ever wondered why you feel more tired and experience so much more fatigue in the winter months? I’m going to talk about some ways to combat these effects and be better equipped for the upcoming season.
The winter blues are real.
Firstly, it would be prudent to mention that the “winter blues” is an actual thing. The National Institute of Mental Health classifies the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), as a Major Depressive Disorder. The only differentiating factor between this and other forms of depression and anxiety, is that the symptoms of SAD are bound to specific times of the year.
Studies show that people with SAD develop common and underlying symptoms. More specifically, they tend to slow down, have difficulties waking up, their energy shoots way down, they consume more (especially sweets and starchy foods), they show a marked loss of interest in activity, and in turn they gain weight. Also, they develop difficulty in concentrating, they distance themselves from their support circles, and their relationships suffer.
Now, how can we better prepare ourselves for when these symptoms come rearing their ugly heads? Better yet, what should we know in order to stop these symptoms from happening or to coach someone in need? I want to briefly touch on three key topics: stress — what it is and how should we deal with it, nutrition — what will have positive effects for the body, and exercise — the influence of physical activity in one’s psyche.
Stress – what is it and how can we handle it?
Stress is merely a byproduct or response to an upset in our mental and emotional equilibrium. Stress can be caused by a myriad of ways, it takes on multiple forms, and our awareness of it will really dictate its true impact on the body.
Stress is a reaction intended to protect the body from potential harm. Even though there are technically forms of good stress that can improve performance and productivity, we easily forget about this due to the heavy discomfort we experience from bad stress. Studies on stress have indicated that our “allostatic load”, meaning the amount of stressors that a person deals with, truly dictates how susceptible we are to controlling or reaching balance and equilibrium.
So, how can we shift our approach to use stress to help us rather than be against us? By turning that reactive thinking into proactive thinking. We need to change our views on stress so that we see stress as an achievable challenge rather than some impossible obstacle. We need to better identify what bad stressors are and flip it into positives. Two ways that can help with that? Keep reading, please.
Nutrition – what will have a positive effect on the body?
Food and diet is top on everyone’s priority list but last on tasks executed. Why? We live in a very convenience-based culture. Because we are driven by productivity and success, we are led to believe that time is money. And frankly, cooking healthy meals takes time. Now, I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, as there are definitely people who prioritize their nutrition for health and well-being. But, let’s briefly address some common aspects of nutrition that could really help combat our fatigue during the winter months.
For the sake of this article, I want to briefly provide light on a few areas: lean proteins, omega-3’s, sugars, and Vitamin D.
Lean proteins, and more specifically salmon and turkey, are not only high in omega-3’s, but salmon is very easy to prepare and sits as a very healthy choice for lean proteins as it doesn’t possess the high amounts of saturated fats that could potentially be harmful to your mood and body. Omega-3’s are a healthy fatty acid and a must in one’s supplementation, but studies show that high levels of omega-3’s can also combat depressive symptoms and increase mental concentration.
Also, we all know and love the turkey coma after a nice Thanksgiving meal. This happens because turkey contains high levels of melatonin which deals directly with the regulation of sleep and mood. What does this mean? There’s actual scientific reasoning to why turkey makes you sleepy, and sleep results in a restful night and productive next day.
What about sugar? We are always told to refrain from high sugar intake as it can take on as fat, but did you know that high levels of sugar combined with low levels of omega-3’s can actually alter brain function and slow it down? Also, sugar crashes are never fun. So make smart choices and regulate that sugar intake!
Finally, make sure to include berries, green leafy vegetables, and Vitamin B12 in your diet! Berries can control cortisol production (emotional responses to stressors), green leafy vegetables contain folic acid that has been shown to create serotonin (directly related to mood, appetite, and behaviour), and studies have shown that 10 minutes of vitamin D from sunlight directly impacts a person’s mood and productivity. If you can’t get vitamin D from sunlight due to weather, then you can find it elsewhere in dairy and fish…or go on vacation!
Exercise – it’s pretty important.
We mustn’t ever forget the positive influence that an active lifestyle can have on the body. Whether you exercise to get in shape, train for a specific event, or for mental clarity and sanity, including physical activity into your daily regimen is incredibly important. I do not have to go into the millions of reasons why exercise is a must in our life, nor do I have to mention that exercise is only just one of the many spheres that contribute to better health and well-being. My wish for you is that putting on your workout gear, plugging into music, and following your workout program can be seen as a ritual (or an escape) that you are excited for everyday — exercise isn’t just for your physical self!
There is no simple fix.
Now, you’ve probably just read a lot of things that you already knew. But, my hope is that you can walk into winter not with a cure-all for the winter blues, but with a greater awareness of your mental state and how you can support it.
There is no one simple cure for anything in life. Everything comes in bundles, and we all have to work hard to get to where we want to be and feel. We will inevitably go through some lows, and that’s okay. Having said that, let’s never forget that our emotional, social and spiritual sectors are just as important as our physical one to producing an all encompassing and healthy body. We all have stressors, we all have hardship and difficulty, but we need to consider and treat our body as a temple.
View this post on Instagram
Before I sign off, I want to challenge each and every one of you to take a step back and really assess where your priorities are. Are you allocating enough time for all your spheres (ie. physical, social, emotional)? Is there balance in your life (ie. personal and professional)? What does your support circle look like? What is your escape? These are all questions that will help you in your low times, and will better equip you for any challenges life throws at you. Let’s strive for progression, not perfection.