Happy new year, everyone! I hope you all had pleasant stress-free vacations from work, or if instead your time off involved a whirlwind of travel and transportation, I hope you at least enjoyed one relaxed and obligation-free hour before getting back into the groove of things. As we have been mercilessly thrown into an unseasonably - yes, unseasonably if you can believe it - cold January up here in Toronto, I thought it would be useful to write a post with some tips on how to best cope with what for many is a challenging time of year.
1. Get outside!
Am I crazy? Maybe. But have you ever stopped to consider how much time you spend indoors during the winter? Inside with our doors and windows tightly shut, with the air contained and continuously being recirculated, along with the dust, animal dander, and whatever else might be hiding in carpets of your rented apartment.
One great way to get into being outside during the winter is to take up a winter activity. Something to look forward to that may not be possible during the other seasons. And you might be surprised to find out how easy this can be, even in a big city like Toronto. Remember the figure skating lessons you took as a kid? Maybe it's time to show off that Salchow at Dufferin Grove or Trinity Bellwoods! Don't have skates? Try Campbell Park, also in the west end. More inclined to ski? Well, if it's XC you're looking for, the Trakkers club makes Sunday trips from Toronto to locations all over southern Ontario. Downhill? It's not Whistler, but you don't have to go as far as you would think to get a few runs in - Dagmar is close by and a shuttle runs directly from Toronto to Blue Mountain every day in the winter!
2. Dress for the weather
This is maybe the most important tip on this list, especially if you take my first recommendation to heart. No one, not even our friends living north of 60, enjoys having wet feet, cold hands and no feeling in their ears. Investing in a solid pair of waterproof boots and an insulated coat is well worth the expense, especially since we go through this chilly season every. single. year. Layer like crazy and cover up all the places you expect to lose heat, i.e. your hands and head. And "long underwear do not leggings make"...in other words, invest in actual long underwear. They will make a world of difference for your commute.
You are likely already aware of the difference that exercise can make on your mood at other times during the year, and this obviously continues to apply during the winter. We are left then with the problem of not wanting to leave the house to get active. Well, if the first two tips didn't do much to tickle your fancy, maybe you'd be interested in a few at home recommendations for getting gentle exercise. Yoga Download and Fitness Blender are some good options, just remember to work well within your skill and ability.
4. Use artificial light
LED light therapy has been shown to be a very effective management tool for symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder. This study found the therapy to be effective by using the lamp for 30 minutes/day prior to 8:00 AM at a distance of 20" from the face. Light boxes can be purchased online or in your local pharmacy.
5. Pay attention to what you're craving
Do you crave sugar when you're feeling blue? You're not the only one! Sugar and all of the other carbohydrate-heavy treats we often reach for when we're feeling down eventually break down into glucose, our brain's favoured food. The only problem is that consuming an imbalanced load of simple carbohydrates (e.g. cookies, bread, cereal, low-fat milk products, etc.) without the slower moving protein, fats and fibre to balance them out, you end up with a sugar spike. We all know what that feels like - great for a bit and then really, pretty horrible when that crash comes along. With your brain being supported with spikes and crashes instead of a steady stream of nourishment, it's no wonder there's a relationship between mood swings and sugar cravings. Help counter mood swings by keeping your diet balanced. Maybe you could use some inspiration? Check out some of these great food blogs for recipes: fellow CCNM'er's 80twenty, My New Roots, Nom Nom Paleo, Nourished Kitchen, Radiance Nutrition, Running to the Kitchen.
6. Supplement Vitamin D
You've probably been told by a number of a people that you should probably be supplementing vitamin D. And you know what, they're probably right. The reality is that you are going to spend the majority of the sunny hours of these short winter days inside and all covered up. Not ideal for natural vitamin D production. Consult your naturopath or other health care provider on a dose that's good for you and seek out a good D that is oil-based, because D is a fat-soluble vitamin.
An important note: depression is not the same as having the winter blues. If you are worried you may be depressed, please seek professional support and care
Stay warm and remember - after the winter comes spring!