Winter. The word alone sends a shiver down my spine! There's no question; winters in Canada can be harsh. And I'm not just referring to heating up your car before the sun rises, feeling the ice cold tile floor under your toes, or having to maintain a healthy level of moisture on pretty much every party of your body. Unfortunately, these chilly dark days can prompt my nothing but familiar friend, "seasonal depression." As someone who lives a rather upbeat and positive life, seasonal depression is one pesky little monster who has definitely played a part in challenging my ability to tread water. In saying this, I know that I'm the furthest from alone on the subject, as many Canadians seem to suffer from the same yearly cycle. However, as a repetitive participant in the winter blues, over the years I've been lucky enough to learn from my body; finding ways to nurture and protect it from the season to the best of my ability. So, in hopes of shedding some light on my fellow soldiers - here's a brief summary on how I've learned to tackle the season. Keep in mind, I'm not a doctor - I'm simply sharing personal opinions. If you're struggling with mental health issues, it's usually best to seek professional medical attention, and work to form a plan/coping strategies that work best for you.
1. Nighttime Routine
Getting the proper 7-9 hours of sleep each night is essential to healthy living. During rest, our levels of cortisol and adrenaline decrease, allowing our bodies to repair and grow. Limiting sleep can put your body in starvation mode, which can cause irritability, increased stress, and weight gain. A main factor in maintaining proper sleeping patterns is a hormone known as melatonin. Shorter days means cutting back our sunshine hours, which effects our melatonin levels. In order to maintain a proper sleep schedule as the seasons change, it's important to send consistent nightly signals to trigger proper hormone activity. Simple things like dimming the lights, turning off the computer/tv, reading, and practicing aromatherapy an hour before bed, have done wonders for my sleep schedule. I've learned that keeping these signals as consistent as possible plays a important role, so I aim to start my nightly routine around 8-9pm. And on nights that I'm particularly irritable, taking a melatonin supplement half an hour before crawling into bed, has definitely done the trick!
2. Morning Exercise
Another habit I've gotten into is scheduling my exercise for first thing in the morning. This way, I know I'm starting my day off right, which keeps my mood elevated throughout the better part of my day. I don't have to worry about getting in a workout after a long day of work, and I can save my evenings for "down time," which better prepares me for my nighttime routine. I'm not a coffee drinker, as I can get a little skittish, so I now add pre-workout to my morning routine. This way, I get a quick boost before exercising, as well as half a litre of water (mixed with pre-workout) first thing in the morning! A current favourite --> C4 Blue Razz.
3. Maintain Active Living
Aside from my weekly gym routine, I try my best to stay somewhat active throughout the day. Luckily my job allows me to get up and move around as much as I like, but if you're working in a more sedentary workplace, it might be a good idea to take little walks around the office every half an hour, or go for a walk at lunch time. I've also tried to incorporate nightly walks if I'm feeling a little "cabin fever" coming on. A quick 30-45 minute stroll around my neighbourhood usually does the trick!
4. Supplement the Summer
It's important to understand that as we lose daylight, our body's chemistry changes. Personally, I've learned specifically what my body needs to get through the season. I know that prescription medication isn't something I'm comfortable taking, so I've done my research in finding other options that compliment my diet. Most of this is trial and error, and highly dependent on your personal needs. Supplement-wise, I currently take a B-complex, iron, lysine, vitamin D, and I'm dabbling with ginseng. I would definitely recommend a vitamin D supplement to EVERYONE in the winter, because that's where a majority of us Canadians fall short. And if you're unsure of what your body needs, getting blood work done is a great place to start!
5. Limit Recreational Drug/Alcohol Use
I'm not much of a drinker, so limiting alcohol use in the winter really wasn't a struggle for me. Alcohol is known as a depressant, which can throw our chemical/nutrient make-up off balance. Obviously everyone has their own tolerance level, so just be mindful of yours. As far as recreational drugs go, I've only ever dabbled with the green stuff. And as much as I found it to be a natural sleep aid and help with anxiety, it often left me feeling lethargic, unmotivated, and don't get me started on the munchies! Anyway, I aimed to go weed free for a month, and I've now surpassed my goal, which I'm proud to say is an ongoing thing. I'm actually a little indifferent to marijuana use, but personally I don't believe that it fits into my lifestyle at the moment. And by cutting it out, I've found new ways to improve my sleeping patterns, diet, and cope with my anxieties. Clearly cannabis use is a personal choice, but it's always a good idea to take a look at your "habits" and investigate whether your choices are serving you in a positive way.
6. Maintaining Proper Health During Flu Outbreaks
Hopefully I don't need to remind you to take standard hygienic precautions, such as washing your hands regularly or coughing into your arm rather than your hands. But given the heightened normalcy of sickness during the season, I'll shed some light on some of my own practices. Something I've gotten in the habit of is cleaning the equipment I use at the gym before AND after use. Before is a personal preference, and after of course is a courtesy. Washing your hands after your workout is another great practice, as we know that exercise can briefly lower the immune system. Recently I've started using a diffuser to aid some breathing problems, and after researching various essential oils, I've found that eucalyptus oil can play a part in fighting off the common cold/flu. I like to set the diffuser for a few hours as I'm falling asleep - a practice I use about 5 times a week. Along with the essential oils, I started using natural immunity boosting agents from Saje Natural Wellness. Here is a list of the products I'm currently using on a regular basis:
I'm a big advocate for natural remedies - I wouldn't be sharing these products with you if I wasn't. Clearly somebody hasn't been endorsed yet (cough cough). And my last little tidbit of information; proper nutrition people! It works wonders! When we fuel our bodies with all them nutrients, we give our immune system the opportunity to build and repair before things go too far south.
So all in all, treat your body right! Give yourself the love and care you deserve, because the simple act of doing so, can have an extraordinary impact on your mental health. Again, mental health is individualized. Different strategies work for different people, so work toward becoming mindful of your needs. Maintaining good mental health is an ongoing process, so be patient with yourself.