We’re rapidly approaching the shortest days of the year. In some places, it’s getting dark as early as 4:30 right now. I often hear people comment about how depressing it is when they drive to work in the dark and return home in the dark. Or if they have an office job, and leave at the end of the day and it is already dark.
But from a yoga perspective, the winter solstice is the true new year, where you let go and bring closure to the past year. Out of the dark comes the seeds of new growth, and the emergence of light and new beginnings. It is a time to contemplate all that doesn’t serve you anymore and let go, as you allow for more space to let the new in.
But still…on an every day basis, the dark days of winter can be a bit of a downer. For some people, the lack of sunshine leads a condition even more severe than the winter blues – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Causes of SAD may arise from a change in serotonin levels due to lack of sunshine, as well as possible hormonal imbalances. ,
Even if you don’t meet the clinical requirements for a diagnosis of SAD, the winter blues are understandable. Lack of sunshine, bad weather and stress from the holidays can all leave you feeling more than a little frazzled. For many people, stress can also trigger poor dietary and sleep habits.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Harness this potent time for new beginnings and growth. Here are my recommendations for a little pick-me-up during the winter months.
1. Get outside
Sure the weather is poor in many parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay holed up in your house. Try to spend a little bit of time outside during daylight hours every day. According to an article in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, insufficient vitamin D levels are associated with depression. Since your best source of vitamin D is sunlight, it’s understandable that during the winter months these levels drop.
To counteract this, head outside for 20 minutes whenever possible. Try taking a brisk walk during your lunch hour or stepping outside for a few minutes during your breaks at work. The sunlight and fresh air will give you a mental boost that can make you feel better! Just bundle up with a hat and gloves, if needed, and you’ll be happy you got out.
You have to move that body to avoid feeling lethargic and heavy!
According to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, exercise is an excellent way to fight the winter blues. One study showed that getting some form of aerobic exercise three times per week effectively improved symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Another study showed the regular practice of yoga could lessen anxiety in women.
Don’t you love modern studies that back up ancient practices that have been used for centuries prior?
While your best source of vitamin D is sunlight, getting enough sunshine during the winter months isn’t always possible in certain climates. In an article for Psychology Today, James M. Greenblatt, MD recommends D3 supplementation as one factor in improving mood for cases of SAD.
4. Include whole grains and raw seeds in your diet
Whole grains such as quinoa contain high levels of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that regulates the levels of serotonin in the brain. Studies have shown that tryptophan is better than placebo at alleviating depression. Other foods high in tryptophan include raw sesame and pumpkin seeds.
5. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
The typical Western diet creates an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This imbalance can lead to a host of health issues, including depression. One study showed that increasing levels of omega-3 fatty acids reduced symptoms of depression.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include flax, hemp, chia, and pumpkin seeds, as well as vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and purslane.
6. Avoid caffeine, refined sugar, and alcohol
The winter blues can leave you feeling a little blah. When this happens, many people feel it’s natural to self-medicate by turning to substances that pick you up and/or calm you down. Using these substances, however, can wreak havoc on your energy, lifting you up and then causing you to crash. To keep your mood steadier (and your body healthier), stick to a non-processed diet of whole foods and skip these unbalancing entities, like fish oil capsules.
It’s easy to burn the candle at both ends during the winter. Relaxation is an important part of fighting anxiety and depression, however. It’s important during these winter months you take regular time for yourself. Sit with your feet up, gaze out a sunny window (another great way to get sunlight without going outside on the coldest of days, by the way), meditate, or engage in hobbies you enjoy. Stopping and taking time for yourself is essential for recharging and renewing during the busy winter months.
Reflect on what you are letting go of, and what you want to create as the light comes forth again.
Whether you spend time with funny friends, go to a comedy club, or take in the latest funny movie (Wedding Crashers, Zoolander and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are some of my personal classic funny faves!), laughter is a great way to fight the winter blahs. Multiple studies have shown just how effective laughter is at staving off anxiety and depression, so make sure you take time regularly to get your funny on, and you’ll feel better this winter.
9. Start each day with a Glowing Green Smoothie
Winter causes many people to eat heavier, heartier foods in an attempt to warm themselves from the inside. Lightening up what you eat, however, may just help lighten your mood. That’s because when you eat heavy foods, your body diverts a great deal of energy to digestion. Lighter fare allows you to use that digestive energy for – well – energy! Packed with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fiber, the Glowing Green Smoothie (GGS) is energy in a glass. And since it won’t weigh you down, the GGS gets every day off to the perfect start, helping you feel light and energized all day long.