Beating The Winter Blues: My 4 Key Habits To Maintain A Summertime State of Mind
In the cloudy, rainy winter months, do you feel way more lethargic, chronically fatigued, unfocused, unmotivated and generally dull than you ever do during the rest of the year? And in spring/summer you feel like an entirely different person? Optimistic, energized, easily creatively inspired and just “ON” in general?
Like I do, you probably struggle with a milder and more common form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) known affectionately as “winter blues.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder is generally characterized by depression. Although it should be said that symptoms vary in severity. Ranging from a sense of deflation, lack of vitality and vigor, brain fog and irritability, to chronic anxiety, a sense of helplessness, despair and more.
By working just a few simple habits into my lifestyle this past winter, I was able to consistently maintain the levels of productivity and clarity necessary to keep up with the creative demands of my artistic and work life, and maintain that summertime state of mind.
It turns out there is a proven scientific correlation between our moods and the weather. In those dreary, overcast months, we’re all missing our most important resource of Vitamin D: sunshine.
When ultraviolet light hits your skin, it stimulates the endogenous production of Vitamin D (which is actually a hormone), which floods your body and carries out its essential functions, such as facilitating the body’s absorption of calcium, as well as the synthesis and release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine – two key players responsible for good moods and wakefulness.
Dr. Michael Holick, an American endocrinologist and pioneer Vitamin D researcher, says that “… during the winter time, if you live above Atlanta, Georgia, you basically cannot make any Vitamin D in your skin from about November through March. Obviously, you need to either take a supplement or use a tanning bed or an ultraviolet light that will produce Vitamin D…”
You could try to get your Vitamin D from a handful of food products, such as salmon, egg yolks, cheese and vitamin enriched yogurts. But you would have to eat about 40 eggs to get a minimal optimal Vitamin D dose of 1000iu. Many doctors and Vitamin D researches even recommend up to 5,000iu per day for adults.
So a quality supplement is essential to help the body produce this crucial hormone that plays a pivotal role in several processes related to fostering optimal psychological health.
Now, as lame as I think it is to complain about the weather, I have to admit that S.A.D. is a real struggle for me. It affects my work performance, creative drive, the quality of my relationships and general experience of everyday life.
Living in the Pacific Northwest has a burgeoning list of perks: majestic mountain ranges lining the horizon in all directions, lush temperate rain forests – often within walking distance – and an abundance of crisp air and clean water. The most epic venues for almost every outdoor sport imaginable are right on your doorstep.
In Vancouver, BC (where I grew up and currently live), Fall and Winter are legendary for being two things: very gray and very wet. Almost half of the year we see some amount of precipitation, often bundled consecutively for weeks at a time. For example, in October 2016, it rained 28 days out of the 31, which was a record breaker.
Sure, I love the romantic notion of cozying up in my living room on a gray evening with a book, or unwinding on my yoga mat with a foam roller. But when there’s no break from the overcast it starts to take a heavy toll.
No amount of sleep seems to make a dent in my constant fatigue. I can’t seem to generate the stamina to focus and keep up with the demands of my writing workload, or pick up my guitar and spend the time playing and writing that I need to in order to forward my music career.
But in a tank top, beneath blue skies and sunshine, my psychology and entire experience of life transforms dramatically. In warmer temperatures I can feel my cells light up; creative ideas flood in effortlessly. And beneath everything there is a gentle pulse of vital optimism.
This elevated baseline state is greatly diminished come October/November. Even with proper nutrition and rigorous exercise, it’s a significant struggle to maintain psychological and emotional equilibrium. I have to work ten times as hard as I do in the sunnier months to keep my mood and attitude afloat.
But with all this new information in mind, I finally nailed a simple action plan. Here are the 4 key habits I implemented that kept my mind sharp and the blues at bay:
- Supplement With Liposomal Vitamin D
The lynchpin culprit of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Since our Vitamin D levels rely on exogenous (or “outside”) sources, such as food, sunlight and supplementation, this is the highest leverage thing we can do to compensate for the huge loss of sun exposure that we experience in the darker seasons.
I choose a liposomal formula over standard over-the-counter pills because it is proven to have dramatically higher absorption rates, whereas only a small fraction of what the pills claim to offer will actually end up in your bloodstream.
Rather than breaking down in the digestion process, the integrity of the vitamins are protected by a lipid shell (a liposome), allowing them to slip through the gut lining, fully in tact, and into the bloodstream. That fatty shell also makes the absorption process much easier on the cells of your body.
I specifically choose NanoNutra’s Liposomal D3 blend not only because it has a solid dose of 2500iu, but it also includes a bit of Vitamin K2. Vitamin D3 promotes higher absorption of calcium into the body, while Vitamin K2 prevents excess buildup in joints and arteries – a real issue not often mentioned in conversations around supplementing high doses of Vitamin D.
So unless you want to keep your fingers crossed for the placebo effect, liposomal technology Vitamin D is the surest way to meet your body’s needs and flip your moods upside down – naturally.
- Steer Away From Sugar Crashes
Without steady sunshine to mask your body’s underlying struggle with your diet, it’s especially crucial to eat clean and keep yourself from going through repetitive cycles of sugar crash, caused by consuming lots of carbohydrates (breads, pastas, muffins, sweet desserts, etc.)
The acronym S.A.D. is actually related to another phenomenon that causes states of depression, the “Standard American Diet”, which is heavily based on processed foods and refined sugar. Think tubs of mayonnaise, fast food, microwave dinners and 2L “big gulp” cups of cola.
I focus on eating clean, whole foods. Cooking at home and prepping meals for the following days are essential. I’ll often make a killer omelette for breakfast, a hearty spinach and kale salad with avocado and salmon for lunch and something like a brassica stir-fry for dinner, while snacking on fruit or carrots and hummus throughout the day.
- Hop In A Float Tank Once A Week
I worked at a float centre for a few years, which granted me the rare opportunity to dive into the science behind it and experience the therapy on a regular basis. Now I can’t imagine my life without floating at least a few times a month.
Besides simple relaxation and relieving your system from the barrage of stress and stimulus in the modern world, studies have shown that floating has much deeper and nuanced impacts on the body. Such as:
- Radical decreases in secretion of cortisol and adrenaline
- Regulation and increase of seratonin and melatonin production in the brain, leading to greater wakefulness and deeper sleep (which leads to even greater wakefulness)
- Natural endorphin and dopamine release, the body’s endogenous opiates and pain-killers, responsible for feelings of serenity and well-being
- Significant production of alpha and theta brainwaves, which are related to creativity, flow states and spontaneous inspiration.
If you’ve never been in a float tank, it’s good to know that it takes a few sessions to adjust to it. Your experience is guaranteed to change, both as you become more familiar with being in sensory deprivation and as the benefits of being in the tank stack up in your body.
If you really want to experience the benefits, commit to doing at least three floats in one month.
- Break A Sweat
Everyone should find a means of exercise that is fun and desirable for them. The options are limitless: cycling/spin, yoga, running, weight training, pilates, indoor/outdoor climbing, hiking, martial arts, Tae-Bo, shake weights, the list goes on. Even long, vigorous walks are extremely beneficial.
For half the year, in the warmer months, I have a membership to my local climbing gym. With sunglasses and good music, the bike ride across town to get there already puts a huge grin on my face.
For the rest of the year, in the wetter, grayer months, I have a membership to the gyms at my local community centres. In the cold and pouring rain, running and exercising isn’t so tempting. Just a 10 minute walk from my house, I have cozy access to everything I need, including a sauna and hot tub.
And maybe you’ll need workout partners to keep you on track and motivated. While I often hit the gym by myself, a few of my friends and I still invite each other out for workouts and push each other to stay active.
To keep up with any health habit, it is key to set yourself to make it as easy as possible to make that new choice. By having a pass to a versatile indoor fitness space that is close to my house, I’m removing most of the obstacles and potential excuses I could have to breaking a sweat. No matter what is happening weatherwise, I can keep my system primed.
Whatever your approaches are to bolstering your physiology and psychology, it’s important to work with several of them to ensure that you have a fuller defense against the blues.