Autumn here in the Northeast is passing quickly. With daylight savings it’s already dark when many of us are ending our work days or the kids are getting off Zoom. Cold winds are reaching down collars and up hems, sending us scurrying indoors.
This is the season of The Winter Blues or what some call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
In addition to less light & more bundling, you may find right now that it's requiring even more discipline than usual to stay positive and optimistic. The news and social media don't help. For me this demands committed breaks from social media and the news, daily early morning meditation and movement and regular deep breathing.
If anxiety and depression catch you around this time - you are not alone!
This is normal and consistent with what’s happening outside. As life retreats into the earth in the winter, nature takes a rest. There is a wisdom to this - one that traditional cultures were certainly more in sync with.
Sometimes, however, this inwardness can feel overwhelming and isolating.
Here are three simple tips that help me tremendously during this time, both as prevention and as treatment for the winter blues.
1) 10+ minutes of shaking-- When the weather turns colder, your circulation shifts. Blood vessels in your arms and legs constrict due to the cold - pushing blood back towards your center to preserve heat and nutrition in your vital organs. Cold hands and feet are one obvious outcome. Cold weather also makes us subconsciously tense our muscles, decreasing blood flow to the brain, worsening poor circulation and lending itself to general stiffness in joints and muscles.
Exercise is, of course, great and especially important during this time of year, but perhaps even better medicine is shaking your body.
Let your arms hang loose and floppy, bounce on your heels and move your spine in a relaxed and fluid way. Relax as much as possible while you shake. This fun practice relieves tension and pumps lymph through your whole body, improving immunity and lifting your spirits. Do it with a friend, in person or on Zoom. Do it with the family, make funny animal noises and include as part of your stress relieving quarantine protocol.
2) 30 second cold shower-- I know the last thing you want to do is take a cold shower right now! But I don’t mean that your whole shower has to be cold. Take your warm shower as usual and then for the last 30 seconds, turn the faucet all the way to cold. Hop around and shout if you need to. Start small. Try 10 seconds the first time and add 5 seconds each shower until you get to 30.
Or just go for it! For me - jumping right into the 30 seconds (or more) of cold water wakes me up and keeps me tingling for the rest of the day. (I do this after my shaking.)
Taking a cold shower is healthy! Some studies have shown that it increases your body’s concentration of antioxidants which protect your cells from damage. Others highlight the immune-boosting effect of cold exposure. Still other studies point to the activation of brown - mitochondria & iron-rich - fat in the body. This means that your body becomes better at transforming food into energy, generating heat. Yes. Cold showers make you warmer and burn more calories.
3) Social Connection--One big contributor to seasonal depression is a sense of isolation. Reach out, stay connected and have some buddies over especially when you don't feel like it. Share dinner over Zoom. Make special events to shift up routines. Light candles or a make a fire. Bundle up and gaze at the night stars. Say a prayer.
And a couple more good ideas ----
+ Food--This is a great time of year to highlight and enjoy foods rich in antidepressant nutrients such as: Folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc. You can find them in foods like:
Oysters and mussels
Sardines, salmon, mackerel and tuna
Bone broth (from a good, organic farm with healthy, well-treated animals)
Organ meats--especially beef liver (as above)
Leafy greens and lettuces
Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower.