This post was originally published on Southern Maryland Living by Chrissy on February 19, 2021
Chrissy asked me about 4 common winter wellness concerns that many people have during the winter – particularly winter 2020-2021. I was delighted to share winter wellness tips and the many ways that you can incorporate daily practices into your wellness lifestyle. After all, your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing is important!
Seasonal Affective Disorder Tips
Chrissy: Many people suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) during gloomy winter months. What therapies would you suggest to help manage this disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is commonplace but too often discounted as something unworthy of attention. When we ignore our seasonal depression, we set ourselves up to dred several or more months out of the year. We diminish the joy in our lives for many weeks in a row. There are five (5) steps that many functional medicine doctors suggest we all take that will reduce our seasonal blues:
- Exercise – Go for a walk, take a class, follow a video, just move! Exercise for long enough to get endorphins and to stimulate your brain. If you can exercise with a friend (virtually or physically distanced) then congratulations are in order – you have helped your mood even more! How often? Every day with exercise makes a difference.
- Expose your eyes to bright light – Make time in your day to expose your eyes directly to the sunshine. Don’t let windows or sunglasses come between you and the healing effects of sunlight. If your life does not make access to bright natural light easy, come for a Joovv Red Light Therapy twice a week and get plenty of light to minimize your SAD.
- Eat clean – Avoid foods high in sugar, alcohol, and unhealthy fats. Those types of foods encourage inflammation, dissuade the body from using the nutrients that you eat, and add stress to your body. If your diet is low in protein then it is likely to be high in sugars and fats, so check your protein in each meal or snack. A bedtime snack incorporating whole grains (for their B vitamins and complex carbohydrates) and tryptophan rich foods give your body the nutrients to make serotonin – the neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing your mood. You reduce seasonal depression when your brain and body receive wholesome natural foods full of nutrients.
- Get your vitamin D – This important pre-hormone is supposed to be generated by your body and the summer sun and is then stored in your fat for winter. However, many Americans are low on their Vitamin D levels. Functional medicine doctors typically encourage higher blood levels of Vitamin D than western medicine doctors since they are focussed on optimizing the health of both body and mind. Check your levels, talk to your doctor, and aim high with a Vitamin D supplement!
- Sleep fabulously – Sleep fixes so many problems I could write a whole article on it! Sleep is needed in order for your brain to regulate your mood effectively. Too much, not enough, or poor quality sleep greatly affect your mood, energy levels, whole body inflammation, and metabolism. It helps to establish a regular sleep pattern that is the same for all 7 days of the week. Set aside time to calm down in preparation for great sleep. Since blue light stimulates your brain and will keep you awake, for the 2 hours before bedtime avoid or limit use of your technology devices and other things that emit more blue light then red – particularly in your bedroom.
Anxiety and Mental Health Tips
Chrissy: Many of us struggle with elevated levels of anxiety and stress on a regular basis. What steps can we take to help ease our minds & take care of our mental health better?
Chronic stress has been connected to the 6 leading causes of death. Keeping your stress relief tool box overflowing is incredibly important for longevity and for feeling good every day. Infrequent, longer stress relief sessions are very attractive to some people – they are often called vacations. They are wonderful and we look forward to them, but when they are over it is back to your normal life! When you are chronically stressed, better results occur when you make a change to your normal life. These lifestyle changes do not need to be monumental or expensive.
Easy, inexpensive stress relief tools include:
- Take a brief (or long!) walk – outside to breathe fresh air, shift your frame of mind, and change the tension in your body – you will return a different person! (I offer free monitoring of the outdoor air quality in La Plata )
- Start or renew a gratitude practice – Find a daily opportunity to focus on the things you have and the joy they bring to your life. When you wash your hands, perhaps you choose to think of how much you love your children. Before you sit down to eat you, perhaps you spend a few breaths thanking the farmers and chefs that made the food for nourishing you). Perhaps you write in a journal (give yourself enough time to get “in the zone” for journaling). Find what works for you!
- Create space in your day for a meditative activity – Experience a better start to your day, a lunchtime shift towards the positive, or a great night of restorative sleep. Meditative activities look like: washing dishes, taking a bath, sitting in a rocking chair, going for a walk, sitting with closed eyes, petting your cat or dog, swinging with your kids, and so many more! Just let your mind wander without judgement or focus. See what pops into your thoughts. Sit with it. No action required. If you want to be guided through your meditative practice, consider the a monthly meditation membership with unlimited access to audio recordings each month
- Spend time in pleasure – be that reveling in the taste of a perfect piece of dark chocolate, focussing on the warmth and healing of a cup of morning coffee, herbal tea or hot cocoa, enjoying the touch of your sexual partner, or listening to a piece of music that makes your heart sing.
- We often hear that movement heals. Sitting in front of a computer, spending our days focussing on those we are caregivers for (children and elders), trying to multi-task but feeling ineffective, and dealing with common adult life tasks all add stress and physical tension to our bodies. Movement brings you back into balance. Movement satisfies the needs of both brain and body but the two may have different needs. For many people, high intensity activity like weight lifting, running, and dancing releases some mental stresses, creates endorphins (your natural “feel good” and pain relief hormones), and naturally adds physical stress to the body. Activities like Pilates, yoga, fascial movement, and meditation will bring the brain chemicals back into balance, reduce the stress hormones in your body, and release physical tension so you feel good. Both styles of movement are beneficial; ensuring both are scheduled into your week is optimal! For just this reason, clients at Zen and Vitality are encouraged to create a movement plan which includes both strength oriented and release oriented classes.
Tips for Winter Aches and Pains
Chrissy: General aches & pains are a common problem for many of us, especially in the winter. What therapies would you recommend to help alleviate or eliminate these issues?
Winter can be a challenging time for the body. For many achy joints, heat is a great tool. Some people enjoy a hot bath with epsom salts to relieve their discomfort but who can stay in the bathtub all day? If you are not a bath person, another way to use heat for pain relief is to have a session in an Infrared Sauna.
- Imagine lying comfortably in the summer sunshine without the bright light or the fear of sunburn, skin cancer, or sand in your underwear! An Infrared Sauna provides heat all the way into the depth of your joints and muscles. You get warm from the inside out! Your circulation improves bringing nourishing blood and fluids to your muscles and joints. For many, your nervous system calms down which brings your pain level down so you feel good. I encourage you to read more about the Infrared Sauna and scheduling is easily done online.
- Heat challenges the circulatory system and stimulates the nervous system so it is not a suitable pain relief tool for everyone. A fabulous alternative is gentle, safe, whole body movement which is a priority in my Zen Flow Yoga and Zen Through Fascia classes. These classes address the aches and pains that each participant has as we begin class; I give you movement choices so you can do what works best for your body on that particular day.
Dealing with Winter Weight Gain
Chrissy: Weight gain is a common issue this time of year, whether it’s because of the holidays or quarantine. Where & how should we start our weight loss journey?
The journey towards an optimal weight begins with the mind. We first need to understand that our bodies are designed for survival. During the winter, we need a larger layer of insulation to keep our bodies warm; the subcutaneous fat located just under the skin provides that insulation. We need more fat during the winter than in the summer. In order to create that extra insulation, our hormones encourage us to eat a bit more to prepare for and last through the winter. We need to eat heavier, more calorie dense foods in the winter time.
- Fighting the body’s innate needs rarely results in both mental and physical wellness, so a better approach is to gracefully accept that our winter selves are a bit heavier than our summer selves. As long as we adjust our dietary and movement patterns back to their spring/summer levels, the cycle continues and we get lighter again! If you want to kickstart your spring weight loss, be sure to move your body frequently every day to keep your metabolism elevated and to adjust your diet to match the seasons by eating locally grown organic food. Spring is a great time for greens – hello salad!
The second thing to consider is the importance of the brain in creating an environment where weight loss can happen if it should. Our brain controls the hormones that regulate our metabolism, appetite, energy levels, mood, and digestion. A healthy mind does its best to support a body in optimal condition, including weight. Keeping your brain functioning superbly, maintaining proper hormone levels, and ensuring your body is responding well to those hormones will set your body up to get to the best version of you!
- Minimizing foods that disturb your hormone levels, avoiding confusion in the brain between body signals (hunger and thirst for example), and supporting brain health through exercise and sufficient light exposure will work wonders to get your winter weight off in the spring. If you want to be on the early side of spring for your weight loss, consider twice a week sessions in the Joovv Red Light Therapy to stimulate the brain’s hypothalamus that regulates your hormones and metabolism.
The third important aspect of weight loss is how we treat ourselves. Our self love and self talk are crucial to our ability to shift our weight to a healthier number. Yoga can be an invaluable tool – it is more than just a form of movement. Yoga offers tenets for how to live a good life.
- Non-violence to others and ourselves (ahimsa) includes not eating foods that will cause harm to our body and mind. Truthfulness (satya) even to ourselves about what we ate and why. Living in moderation (brahmacharya) leads us to stay away from the extremes in diet, exercise, and life. Non-hoarding (aparigraha) encourages many things but the most important is to avoid letting weight loss thoughts take over our lives or steal the joy of daily living. These tenants may already be a part of your life, but if putting them into practice is a challenge, consider taking a step towards greater wellness by adding yoga to your life.