There’s a very good reason why it might feel so hard to give a darn about your health in winter. And also why your mood might also turn dark. And that is the lack of light.
We are headed into winter, during a pandemic, in an election year. It’s probably going to be pretty stressful, let’s be honest. And it is just so very easy to let your health slide during winter. To skip exercise, to scoop yourself another bowl of pasta, and hide out on the couch with the remote. Now, there’s a time and a place for everything, but winter is a long time. Four months of not taking care of yourself is gonna take a toll.
Luckily, this cause can be remedied.
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What so many of us chalk up to just hating winter is actually a physiological response to a reduced amount of light. Whether it’s full blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or a dip in mood and motivation, it’s a real phenomenon and a lot of people don’t consider that this is what’s happening.
It’s so easy to think that life sucks. But maybe it’s just that the light sucks right now.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
I can certainly attest. There was one winter in my 20s when I lived in San Francisco. There was enough rain that winter to get us out of a six-year drought. And I spent the majority of the time I wasn’t at work lying on the floor in a sleeping bag, watching VHS movies that I rented at the video store where I had a crush on the guy who worked there–who I never talked to, of course, because it would have been too much effort.
It wasn’t just that winter. For years, I thought I hated Christmas. And by the time March rolled around, when it’s typically still chilly and cloudy here in the Northeast, I was always one. Very. Sullen. Suzanne.
It took me years to figure out that I was affected by the lack of light. I don’t want it to take years for you. So ask yourself — is spring your favorite season? Do you hate winter? Do you try to deal with winter by staying inside as much as possible? Or do you typically gain weight in winter? Do you feel like you’re running on fumes in February? These are all clues that you may have some version of SAD.
Two little known facts are:
- SAD is more likely to affect women.
- It can also affect children, although it’s typically not diagnosed in them.
Here are a few easy strategies you can use to keep the winter blues at bay.
Eat your sunshine
Pastured eggs, wild caught salmon, canned tuna, and wild mushrooms all provide vitamin D, which is the vitamin your skin manufactures when it’s exposed to sunlight. The vast majority of Americans should also be taking at least 2000 ius of a vitamin D3 supplement, but you probably already knew that, right?
Throw up your window shades in the morning and get outside as early in the day
When the sun is shining–as you can. That early morning light is great for keeping your pineal gland stimulated and happy, and it’s responsible for the balance of mood hormones like melatonin and serotonin. Make a date with a friend to go on morning walks a couple times a week — that friend time, movement, and sun and fresh air exposure I promise will make a difference for you.
Try a light box
They bathe you in the same kind of blue light that’s contained in sunshine and can help make up for the lack of natural light outside. Generally between 20 and 90 minutes is all it takes. Most come with a timer — I used to set mine for 20 minutes and that was my morning check social media and watch random videos time. So it got me some blue light and also contained my predilection to waste time in the morning. A friend of mine sets her light box up on a table where she keeps a jigsaw puzzle going throughout the winter. She gets her blue light and does something cozy and wintery that she would never do in the warmer months when the outside beckons.
In the end, I find it’s never just one thing that moves the needle on your health. It’s the cumulative effects of a couple of different things.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to first be honest with yourself about your energy levels and mood in the winter. And if you suspect that the shorter days and longer nights might be pulling you down, thinking of a couple things you’ll do to bring more light into your life. After all, winter is ¼ of our lives. It’s too much time to just grit your teeth and soldier through.