Winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects more than 10 million people in North America and women make up 60-90% of those affected (PsychCentral). It is a form of depression that is specifically time based coinciding with the shorter days of winter, starting in fall and resolving in spring. It affects some people more than others and in some cases is not to be taken lightly. While the exact cause remains unknown, factors that influence it are fluctuations in circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels due to the decrease in daylight.
So what’s a person to do? By both embracing the dark by adjusting our lifestyle yet proactively doing what we can to facilitate our biochemistry to feel as good as we can during the shorter days we can make an impact and hopefully shift things.
Winter has a different vibe than summer as it’s a more restful and quiet time in the natural world. Things slow down energetically and turn inward so they can bloom in the spring. Most of nature works in a cyclical way like this. Even our bodies work in a cyclical way. Cortisol levels rise and fall as the day goes on, menstruation cycles with each lunar month, the thyroid cycles with the season, etc. Our hormonal system is designed to cycle with nature (this is one reason I have fallen in love with hormones). The dark is a time of more inward focus and rest. If we can embrace this idea, and not fight it, perhaps we can be more in sync with its quieter rhythm. A few ways to embrace the dark and align with it include
- Light a candle first thing in the morning before turning on the lights
- Cozy up by the fire with a book instead of turning on the TV
- Have a warm cup of Golden Milk (my favorite recipe below) or herbal tea in the evening
- Dust off your piano or guitar and play a song instead of rushing to the next activity
- Start or continue a daily meditation or breathing practice (calm or headspace app, gaiamtv.com).
- Honor the winter solstice and celebrate the dark and the return of light
- Cook a warm and oily gut and soul healing soup
- Keep the lights a little lower in your house after the sun goes down and try to honor a slower pace in the dark.
- Connect with friends and family in the candlelight to tell stories, enjoy meals, to play music, and games. read poems, and more.
- Listen closely to what the darker days are trying to communicate with you
Along with embracing the dark and cozying up to it there are things we can do to help with our body’s biochemistry to minimize the hormonal effects of shorter days and less light. Here in Truckee the sky is often sunny. Making an effort to get out in it in addition to feeding our body what nutrients it needs to thrive can help. Here are some ideas-
- Take a walk in the midday sunshine or move your desk so you are in a sunlit window
- Try light box therapy when you wake up for 20-30 minutes a day (10,000 lux of illumination while the smallest amount of UV emitted)
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep and try to go to bed at the same time every night
- Enjoy the healing benefits of adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens are herbs that help us manage stress and balance hormones
- Eat a whole foods diet focusing on colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, healthy fats, high quality protein, fermented foods, and plenty of clean water
- Exercise. If you can do this outside in nature it is a double whammy as being in nature has many biochemical benefits on it its own
- Connect with friends or family over a nice warm bowl of soup
- Daily supplements that help most people function optimally are omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, and vitamin D
Wishing you coziness and quiet this winter season and of course please reach out for help and support if you need it from family, friends, healthcare providers, or a neighbor.
Golden Milk Golden milk has many wonderful ingredients but the star is turmeric. Tumeric contains curcumin which is the main healing chemical constituent. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, boosts immune function, and more. Enjoy!!
Recipe (by Sharkin) Ingredients
- Combine 1/2 cup water, turmeric, and pepper in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon water. Continue cooking until thickened into a paste, 7 to 9 minutes. Cool completely, 15 to 20 minutes. Pour into an airtight glass jar.
- Whisk 1 teaspoon turmeric paste with the almond milk, coconut oil, ginger, and cinnamon together in a saucepan. Heat over low heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in honey.
- Strain milk mixture into 2 mugs. Drink. Enjoy! Ymmmmm.