We’ve moved out of the sparkle and festivity of the holidays, past the excitement of a new year with new aspirations, and are settling into the last push until spring. The gray clouds today inspired me to do a little write up for those of us who struggle with the seemingly endless gray of a Pacific Northwest winter. This blog post is a little longer than my usual blog posts, because there’s a lot of things that can help! Hope you find these 10 tips useful over the next few weeks!
1. Wake up to light: get fancy pants and purchase a Sunrise Alarm Clock, or just use an outlet timer. Plug in a lamp, and set the lamp to turn on about 15 minutes before you want to get out of bed. Spend some time lying in bed, stretching, letting the light hit your face/eyes/brain. When your regular alarm goes off you’ll be surprised at how awake and ready you feel to face the day. Bonus points if you put a full spectrum bulb in the lamp.
2. Make your bed: once you’re up, turn around and make the bed. This helps because it stops you from getting back in it! And starting your day having accomplished something is really beneficial for mental health. Plus, when it’s time to go to bed, no matter how chaotic or crazy the day was, you have a nice sanctuary waiting for you for sleep.
3. Caffeine: proper dosing, proper time. If you imbibe, stick to 100 mg/100 lbs of body weight. This is about 1 cup of coffee. Aim for having it 2-3 hours after you wake up, when your morning light elevated cortisol levels have started to wane. And avoid having it past 3 pm; this will interrupt your cortisol/melatonin rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep. The amount of caffeine in tea really varies, depending on type and brewing technique.
4. Get out of the house and revel in the winter season! Find the things you love about it that aren’t there the rest of the year. Put on your oldest shoes and jacket and go jump in some puddles. Pick up an armful of leaves and throw them in the air. Grab your umbrella and appreciate the striking contrast of leafless branches or evergreen silhouettes against a smooth gray sky. Admire the way frost edges fallen leaves. Make comfort food recipes. Attend the seasonal events in your area; many of them are free! Do anything that gets you out of the house and helps you enjoy the season.
5. Light therapies: There are many products for providing full spectrum light therapies. My favorite is the Verilux. The research indicates you need a minimum of 30 minutes of daily exposure to full spectrum bulbs to receive the beneficial effects, and can take up to 2-3 weeks before the benefit is noticeable.
6. Exercise: there’s an enormous amount of research that supports the importance of exercise for helping your body and brain regulate the hormones that influence your mood. Find a walking or workout buddy, get a jump rope, take a class, be a shelter volunteer dog walker, anything that motivates you to be more active! The bare minimum for these effects is 15 minutes 3 times/week; results may vary and you may need more.
7. Give yourself a break: it’s winter. You’re supposed to want to slow down. It’s hard to alter 10,000 year old biological rhythms in 100 years! Schedule more down time for yourself and don’t try to maintain the pace and produce the same as you do in the summer.
8. Alcohol: avoid it, or use only in moderation. It depletes nutrients that you need to support your mood and it interrupts your sleep hormone cycles, neither of which will help you in the winter.
9. If you’re really struggling, consider herbal, nutrient or medication support. Check with a naturopathic doctor for a short term prescription to help you through the season. My favorite gentle botanical brighteners for non-internal use are essential oils, especially anything with citrus or lavender. These can be used in a diffuser or a drop added to olive oil and dabbed on the pulse points of your wrist. Make sure to use pure high quality essential (not fragrance) oils, and exercise caution if you have asthma, sensitive eyes, or sensitive skin.
10. Depression and suicide support: ask for help if you need it. The National Suicide Prevention line can be reached at: 1-800-273-8255. If you don’t want to talk to anyone, go to Imalive.org and message with someone. Everyone needs help sometime, and no matter how alone we feel there is always someone available who wants to help.
I hope you have enjoyed these 10 tips to kick the winter blahs! As usual, this blog post is provided for general information and is not a personal medical recommendation. For personal, naturopathic medical assistance with seasonal affective disorder, depression, or another health concern, consider scheduling an Optimum Healing New Patient Package.
Dr. Tremblay graduated from high school with an associate’s degree in horticulture and worked as a gardener for 10 years before returning to higher education and the healer’s path. Dr. Tremblay studied native plant ecology and ethnomedicine at The Evergreen State College, and earned her doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. Read more >>