Here Are 4+ Natural Ways I Overcome Winter Doldrums
When I was living in New York City’s Greenwich Village, every winter without fail I’d brace for unpleasantness and mood swings. The early months of each year were always cold, full of dreary colorless days and often triggered a general malaise. Even with my good fortune of now living in sunny Southwest Florida, I’m still aware that winter months can pack a punch of chillier temperatures, fog and darkness that curtains the landscape by late afternoon.
Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with symptoms ranging from fatigue and depression to hopelessness and social withdrawal. In extreme cases in which symptoms persist longer than a few weeks, I encourage seeking professional help. For others, there are ways to boost your spirits naturally.
Here are simple choices I recommend to my clients and I’ve included my personal practices as well.
With relentlessly inclement weather and lower temperatures, bright light can serve as a very supportive anti-depressant. If sunshine is at a minimum — and you can’t go outside or sit in a sunny window — find daylight-balanced light bulbs to use in all your lamps. You can also find special light therapy boxes for under $75.
To encourage more natural circadian rhythms of sleep-wake cycles, you’ll benefit from using a digital “wake-up” light to simulate dawn even though it may still be dark outside your bedroom. It’s far better to wake up with a mild “wake-up light” than a piercing, disruptive sound alarm that is painfully jarring to the nervous system. Quiet gentle light can get you going in the mornings more calmly and healthfully.
What I do:
In addition to the above, I use a Himalayan Salt Lamp at my work desk during the day which emanates a pleasingly soft glow and is said to purify the air and reduce the impact of electromagnetics
Since I often work in the evenings, I also have apps on my computer, tablet and cellphone which warm the light-balance of my screen automatically after sunset so my sleep is not affected. Bright digital screens can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime which stimulates you to stay awake and disrupts your natural sleep cycle. Some cellphones dim the screen automatically in the evenings. If yours doesn’t, check out your app store for options (almost all smartphones have choices). It’s critically necessary to wind down in the evenings and ready your mind and body for rest. When you don’t get adequate sleep, you’ll likely be irritable, unfocused and in a funk the next day. (And by the way, sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain which is a whole other article I’ll share in the future!)
While having little to do with light, Yoga Nidra or Integrative Relaxation is one of my most important life hacks for being healthier, happier and avoiding winter melancholy. I’m certified in Amrit Yoga Nidra by world-renowned Yogi Master Amrit Desai (founder of Kripalu) and I practice almost daily. My very first experience in this ancient wisdom tradition was inarguably the dramatic turning point which transformed my world and my work. My triple AAA New York personality became calmer and, at the same time, I felt more powerful and more productive. Studies have shown that doing just 20 minutes of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to three to four hours of deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) restorative sleep. It’s my secret weapon for boosting my immune system, healing imbalances, restoring, revitalizing and supercharging my life! I use it often with clients suffering from illnesses, anxiety, fears or sleep disorders and get remarkable results.
Retreating into warm blankets on the couch awaiting the blossoms of Spring — as delicious as that might temporarily feel— is not a good solution for winter doldrums. A better option is to get your body moving. Be active. Get a workout buddy and commit to taking a daily walk, going to the gym, playing a sport, taking a yoga class, or learning ballroom dancing. Just keep moving through those gray days and you are guaranteed to feel better. Being accountable to someone else for whatever activity you choose makes it even more of an obligation…and eventually a habit!
What I do
I write a lot and also create different programs for my presentations, so I spend hours at my computer. Rather than sitting, I use a standing desk which keeps the energy flowing through my body more effectively. You might think I’d tire more easily but I’ve found quite the opposite. It keeps me alert, engaged and more productive. I also use a fatigue mat to cushion any impact of standing for long periods. Once every hour or two, I take a 5 or 10-minute break to jump on my rebounder which is like a mini-trampoline. It’s fun and a huge mood booster! It helps me reach my 10,000 steps a day and increases lymph fluid circulation which can help boost the immune system.
I’m also conscientious about work-life balance so I schedule time to play tennis at least four times a week. I play in leagues and find that competitive tennis is like a meditation in motion. It forces me to stay focused and active. Plus I enjoy the camaraderie and interaction with teammates who are supportive, have fun playing the game, and provide a delightful social network.
I also practice yoga as part of my morning routine. Typically I’ll at least do Sun Salutation which awakens my entire body and is a good stretch. Or I occasionally add a few repetitions of a Qigong exercise called “Heaven and Earth.”
Eating smart keeps your body functioning at peak performance. Whole foods like fruits and vegetables, plus fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, rainbow trout, sardines) offer good nutritional balance. Salmon and sardines are especially high in Vitamin D which is absolutely essential for optimal health. (Consider getting tested for your Vitamin D levels and if they’re too low, take Vitamin D supplements to be sure you’re getting enough.) As much as humanly possible, avoid packaged foods which tend to be laced with preservatives, sugars and other undesirable (and potentially toxic) ingredients.
I’m thrilled to report that research studies have shown significant benefits of eating dark chocolate. It’s full of antioxidants and can reduce the stress hormone cortisol so it helps you feel calmer. About an ounce a day of the delicious treat is recommended. A big no-no is sugar. Sugary desserts and candies spike the feel-good sensors in the brain and contribute to cravings that are not useful. Sugar has NO nutritional value and sadly it’s highly addictive. Studies have shown that sugar is eight times more habit-forming than cocaine.
What I do:
My daily regimen includes a variety of fresh organic fruits and veggies plus nut butters and healthy fats like coconut and avocado oils. I have not touched red meat in over 30 years but I do eat wild caught fish and an occasional free-range chicken. I’m not yet recommending this but I’ve been experimenting with intermittent fasting which reduces the range of time during which I eat. So on many days, I skip breakfast. I’ll have a cup of coffee and I don’t eat until Noon. I stop eating by 8pm. I make sure to stay hydrated all day. So far I’m pleased with my mood…and my weight! Let me re-emphasize that skipping breakfast is not necessarily a good idea for most. I like to experiment with different choices to determine what’s best for me at any given time frame. And what works can change from month to month.
I confess I’m a chocoholic so I’m very appreciative to have permission to eat dark chocolate! ( I choose chocolates that are 60% cacao or higher.) I also enjoy drinking teas throughout the day. I choose healthy varieties. And I avoid sugar like the plague. When buying grocery items, I check labels like an IRS agent on a tax return. If I’m baking cakes or muffins, I’ll use organic figs, dates, stevia or honey as substitutes for sweetness.
4. SCENTS & SOUNDS
Studies on depression have found scents such as orange or lemon boost feelings of well-being. These increase levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that affects mood. Using pure essential citrus oils, put a few drops on a cloth and breathe the scents. Or squeeze some lemon juice into herbal tea for a pick-me-up. Or add some drops of orange to a warm bath.
Sounds can also have a positive impact on your moods. Listening to upbeat, foot-tapping music can give you a lift. Plus sounds can be both relaxing and healing as sounds have been proven to affect your health.
What I do:
I’m also trained in aromatherapy. I keep a tiny bottle of essential oil of lavender with me at all times. I dab a drop under my nose throughout the day. It keeps me calm and healthy since it has antibacterial and antiviral properties. (I especially use it when traveling to keep flu and cold germs away.)
I love to play singing bowls (Tibetan and Crystal ones) in my relaxation and Yoga Nidra classes. With these binaural sounds, students go into even deeper levels of peacefulness as the vibrational impact resonates within every cell. I even use a special sound device for healing purposes.
I totally enjoy indulging in warm baths with Epsom Salts and scents of lavender, peppermint or orange. A luxurious and nurturing bath is a great interrupter after a stressful day and it relaxes muscles and eliminates toxins. I’ll dim the bathroom lights and use the time to truly rest, meditate and rejuvenate.
I used to dread winter. Now it’s just another season with its own specialness. Of course, I made the mindful decision years ago to move to a home where winters are milder and moods are happier. That, of course, is another option : get out of those icy, snowy Northern winters!