It’s autumn here in New Zealand and we have just hit daylight savings. Although I LOVE winter and everything that comes with it (like big cosy jackets and beanies and boots!) I’ve had a few conversations with friends recently who are dreading the fact that winter is coming (but on that note...how excited are you for Game of Thrones?!!).
I've always thought that people who suffered from the “winter blues” were just people who really loved the outdoors; you know, those proper summer girls who love being at the beach all day or socialising and having BBQs every night. I have to admit, as an introvert who loves to be inside reading a lot of the time, I didn’t really get what the big deal was. Once I got chatting to a few people though, I realised that for them, the “winter blues” wasn’t actually as trivial as it sounds - and at the request of a few friends who go through this every year, I went into my research cave to discover how you can take charge of your SAD. Here’s why some people tend to feel sad or depressed during winter:
Less Sunshine = Less Vitamin D
We get most of our RDI (recommended daily intake) of Vitamin D directly from the sun, with only 5-10% coming from food sources (like oily fish and liver). In winter we need longer exposure to the sun in order to hit that RDI and we need it in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest and strongest. Where are most of us in the middle of the day in winter? In an office, or indoors. Unfortunately, modern life has not been our friend when it comes to getting our adequate dose of Vitamin D! In fact, Dr. Libby’s research suggests that 1/3 of New Zealanders test below optimal for their levels of Vitamin D (and that's during the summer as well!)*
Why do I need it?
Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system, which means vitamin D is needed at every level for the body to function. Vitamin D is also a hormone, and activates genes which regulate the immune system and release things like serotonin (the happy drug) that affect brain function and development.
Less light means more melatonin
Melatonin is a substance that your brain creates when it’s dark to help you sleep, but too much melatonin can make you feel sluggish and want to sleep more. This can also lead to brain fog and lethargy which then often results in craving carbohydrates and food that make you feel more sluggish and sleepy! So it can become a vicious cycle of feeling tired and down and eating foods that are not nutritionally nourishing which also make you feel anxious or have low energy.
Not wanting to slow down
As always, whenever I research a health issue I always look at the physical, the mental and the spiritual cause of illnesses. In this case, feeling SAD over the darker months of the year can highlight resistance to going inward, slowing down and reflecting on what needs to be cleared from your life. Everything in nature has a season, and we all get that winter is important for the earth so that we can have new growth in spring. However, as humans of the western world, we don’t often like the phases of our life that force us to go inwards, to slow down or to clear what’s not working. We prefer to be productive rather than reflective, I think Dr. Christianne Northrup makes a valid point about SAD when she says:
“SAD is to the annual calendar what PMS is to the monthly cycle.” - Dr. Christianne Northrup
If we can embrace the slower phase of winter for the gifts it gives us in terms of reconnecting with ourselves, clearing out the old and repairing our body, mind and spirit then we stop resisting the flow of the season and instead embrace the change it will bring.
So if you suffer from SAD, pick 2 or 3 (or all if you feel inspired!) of the following ways to make the winter a little brighter:
1. Let there be light
Get a light therapy alarm clock that simulates the sunrise and as soon as you get up, expose your eyes to the light. Open the blinds or go outside if you can. If you have to get up earlier than the sun does, many people find full spectrum light boxes to be really helpful this time of year as well. This will start to shift the grogginess you might experience in the morning.
2. Get a good quality Vitamin D supplement.
Clinical nutritionist, Ben Warren, has stated that "It is virtually impossible to naturally boost your vitamin D stores in winter." For that reason, a good quality Vitamin D supplement can be really useful. The one I recommend is here.
“It is virtually impossible to naturally boost our Vitamin D stores in winter.” - Ben Warren
3. Grab the midday rays
Talk a walk in the middle of the day if you can, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Natural sunlight and exercise help combat depression.
4. Sweat it out
Even if you can’t get outside, exercise for 30 minutes a day to keep mood boosting endorphins high.
5. Boost your seratonin (the happy drug)
Avoid simple carbs and sugars which will mess with your seratonin levels. You can boost your serotonin levels through taking a good quality fish oil supplement, and eating eggs, nuts and leafy greens. Again, the quality of the supplement is important and the one I recommend is here.
6. Embrace the slow
Flip your perspective of winter and use it as a time to reflect on what needs to be healed, changed or decluttered in your life. Meditate. Sleep more. Allow yourself to get rid of anything you don't want to bring with you into next Spring! (clothes, jobs, people, beliefs, etc).
7. Find things to love about winter
Make a list of things you can love about winter and start looking forward to them. Mine include Game of Thrones, hot chocolate, open fireplaces, winter coats, winter boots, beanies, mittens, flannelette sheets, roast dinners and mid winter xmas parties!
People have experienced AMAZING shifts in their winter blues by using these tools. What's one thing you're going to do choose to do this winter to take charge of your winter blues?
*Interestingly, Dr. LIbby’s research shows that even in summer, New Zealanders can be below optimal levels of Vitamin D. This is because we tend to cover up with sunblock.
Disclaimer: This blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure. We are all unique so if you have any serious health concerns check with your health professional, naturopath or mental health professional.
In my mid twenties I was going through a hard time. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but just struggling with your usual quarter life crisis - a relationship break up, carrying a bit of extra weight, having no energy and feeling like I had no idea what I was doing with my job or my life. (The silver lining of this was, of course, that it led me to my passion for holistic health and personal growth, so don't feel too bad for me). It was somewhere on this journey towards rebuilding my relationship with myself that I came across the idea of self love. I can't remember where I read it first (probably Louise Hay?) but I remember thinking "yes! That's what I need!" After feeling the rush from that epiphany my next thought was.... "How do I get that?"
You might be feeling the same way. Although self love is a term that's used a bit more frequently than it was years ago, it still remains a kind of broad, sometimes vague term that is a little hard to action. What does loving yourself more actually look like?
I definitely didn't get it. I thought self love was all about eating healthy food, having bubble baths and booking massages, and at that point I was already doing all of those things. I knew there was a deeper level I needed to go to, but it felt like I didn't have the map to get there. I went online and after a bit of digging, found a coach called Christine Arylo who is a self love coach in America. She used the example of Self Love as a tree with Self Worth being the trunk and 10 different branches representing aspects of Self Love. That's when it finally made sense to me. From this I could clearly see which areas of my self love muscle needed more attention than the others, and could start to create practical action steps to improve this area of my life.
If you know that your self love muscle could use a bit of work, then read through the following list and see if there is an area that jumps out at you as being important. Don't overthink it. You'll usually feel it in your gut or just have a knowing that this area is the next right place to focus some attention.
These are adapted from Christine Arylo's 'Self Love Tree' which you can also download here: Self Love
Self Love areas
So which area landed for you? When I did this years ago, it was self trust. I realised that part of the reason I felt lost was because I wasn't following my interests and passions. This led me to learn more about intuition, take different actions in my life and I'm currently studying intuitive coaching with one of my mentors.
So which area is it for you? Fill in the blank with your area of choice:
"If my self ____ was a 10/10, what would I be doing differently?"
No doubt you will intuitively get at least one answer of something you could do to take action in this area of your self love. Carve out some time every day or even once a week to take action on this area. Just like building a muscle at the gym, you need to devote some energy, time and action to transforming your self love muscle too. It's an ongoing journey but the practice (and the results!) are so, so worth it.
If you'd like to discuss working together to build your self love muscle, I offer Self Love: 101 as a 10 Week program. Send me an email or give me a text or call to discuss the options. I'd love to connect with you!
Many people can relate to the idea of starting a diet exercise routine or healthy commitment of some sort and then finding that their motivation seems to dry up after a week or so. When a good friend of mine asked me "How can I avoid falling back into bad habits and stay on track?" I thought it was a great question to answer on the blog, since I know that so many people struggle with it.
I don't think there is one right or wrong way to do this but when I look at what's driving my habits when everything works the way I want it to in my life, it comes down to this basic rule:
I Make it automatic.
Most of us know what to do to stay healthy, it's just that we make actually doing it problematic because our brain likes to get involved...and then we become indecisive, lazy or comfortable. When I think back to when any area of my life was really working well it was because I'd made the choices in that area automatic, rather than simply trusted that I would follow through on my commitments. Let's face it, we're human, and we are going to have days when we don't feel like doing what we said we would do. Procrastination, second guessing your decisions or having a day where you feel shattered is going to overshadow your best of intentions and divorce you from your commitment. I've found that within myself, the more I can make positive commitments automatic, the easier they become and the better (and more confident) I feel because I'm in integrity with my goals and experiencing progress.
Within my own life, I've noticed that:
What this all comes down to is really about finding a way to get leverage on yourself so that you do what you say you're going to do. It's about making the decision that will benefit the best version of yourself and then taking away the options that will have you derail that decision. So what's it going to take? How can you make the steps towards your goal automatic so you set yourself up to win?
Fears. We all have them, but what triggers us can be very unique. When we are in a state of fear, we don't make decisions that empower us. We settle for what we think we can get rather than what we really want. We sabotage what we really want because we are too uncomfortable to deal with it. Yep, when fear has us in a headlock, there's not much room for love, grace or ease.
Tony Robbins has said that "stressed is the successful person's word for fear" and I love this because although most of us have been known to utter the words "I'm stressed", not many of us would own up to saying "I'm afraid..," but really it's the same thing.
Fear over not having enough money. Fear that we won't get it right. Fear that we won't meet our dream partner. Fear that we made a mistake.
Like I said earlier, when you're in fear, it's hard to see a way out or to make an empowering decision. Your lens of the world is so skewed it can be hard to see a different perspective...kind of like the opposite of wearing rose tinted glasses. In order to start getting more positive vibes going, you need to get out of the lizard brain of fear so that you have access to the part of your brain that will help you make better decisions. Here's the process I use when fear gets me overwhelmed.
1. Realise that fear is not fact, it's just your brain's way of trying to keep you safe. Take a deep breath, say 'thank you' and then ask yourself, "What am I afraid will happen?" and "What's the worst case scenario?" When we play it out, most of the time we know how we could deal with the very worst, if it were to occur. Knowing that we could cope helps to lessen the anxiety so that we can start to move from feeling stuck to taking action.
2. Write a list of all the things you're grateful for. It might be that you're stressed about money, but how can you shift your perception so you start focusing on what you do have? Remember what you focus on grows, so unless you want your debt / or lack of money to keep getting bigger and scarier start focusing on what you do have. "I'm so grateful I can afford to get groceries this week, that I have this warm house to live in, that I have hot water for a shower, that I can pay my internet bill, that my friend is happy to cut my hair for free...." and just keep writing. This will help you shift your psychology and move into step 3....
3. Start bridging your thoughts in a positive direction. This one has got me out of many a pickle in times when affirmations have seemed like to much of a stretch. I know that many personal growth gurus will tell you that if you're feeling broke you should say to yourself "I'm a millionaire!" "I have all the money I've ever wanted - and more!" but if you don't even kind of believe that will be possible then this usually has a more damaging effect on our self esteem than a positive one. What you need to do is reach for a better thought - one that you can believe in.
You know how you have a tendency to spiral when you start thinking something negative? For example, "I knew this wouldn't work. I'm not smart enough to do it. In fact, I've never been good at this stuff. There's not much I am good at. Oh and great - now I've spilled coffee on myself. What a winner." And so forth. One bad thought can turn into a symphony on what's wrong with you and your life. The good news is, so can one good thought. Staying on the topic of money, let's say that your current thoughts are something like this: "I'm so broke. I can't afford those new shoes I want. I can't afford dinner out this weekend. I'm such a loser. I hate having no money." What you'd like to feel is rich, abundant...rolling in it. So a bridging thought might be, "but you know, money always seems to come in when I least expect it. I've always been taken care of in the end. I can pay my rent for another week, and actually I did get a free coffee bought for me yesterday." Think of it like an inverse spiral - you are spiralling upwards, with every thought taking you back to the superstar you really are.
4. Get clear and take action. Get clear on how you'd like to feel: rich, healthy, confident....whatever is the opposite of the way you're currently feeling. Then ask yourself, "what action steps could I take now to start feeling the way I want to feel?"
Most importantly remember that your fear is not your truth. (False Evidence Appearing Real, remember?) Your fears definitely need to be listened to, but then you call the shots on how you respond to that fear. When you can shift from a state of fear and into one of empowerment and love, your physical and mental health will love you for it!
It's been said many a time, but prevention is sooo much better than cure. When it comes to avoiding winter colds then you need to set yourself up to win now rather than trying to drink your bodyweight in lemon and honey drinks once it's kicked in. If you want to avoid shuffling into bed feeling like you've been hit by a truck and spending your hard earned coffee money on Kleenex tissues then try out the tips below.
I don't know who first said it's the best medicine, but I'm pretty sure they knew their shit. Physiologically, laughter relaxes you, decreases stress, releases endorphins and even burns a few calories. Take this as permission to spend your lunchbox youtube-ing Ricky Gervais videos or whatever cracks you up - it's all for your health and wellbeing.
Lean into lazy.
Not all the way, obviously. But I guarantee there's something on your plate that you can get rid of, some task that's sucking up valuable energy or something you can delegate to someone else. The bottom line is that rushing = stress = a really sad immune system that can't put up a fight when your coworker coughs on your face as they're reaching over and grabbing a cup from the communal sink. The most important thing you could probably do to avoid getting sick is eliminating as much stress as possible. But how to start? Look at your schedule and pick one thing you could eliminate which would give you time for something more beneficial - like a sauna, a rejuvenating yoga class or just some extra sleep. Don't freak out - remember if you miss it you can always add it back in next week, but I'm guessing your body will thank you for the extra downtime.
Feed your body.
Your body is performing a ridiculous number of jobs in any given moment to keep everything functioning in tip top shape. In order to do that, you need to give it the good stuff so that it can actually perform all those chemical reactions that help your heart beat, your digestion work and your hair look shiny. When we talk about colds most people know that Vitamin C is the ultimate warrior, but most people don't know that we need to get a daily intake of this because our bodies don't store it. That means loading up on lots of capsicums, citrus fruit and dark leafy greens. However, if the vitamins and minerals aren't in the soil then they aren't in your veges either, so it's worth springing for organic, loving up your local farmer and finding out if they're supplementing their soils. Zinc, another crusader that builds our immune system and is responsible for over 300 different bodily reactions integral to digestion, is now lacking in most soils worldwide (according to Dr. Libby). For this reason, supplementation can give you a lot of extra support even if, at best, you're going organic or at the very worst...not eating vegetables at all.
(You can check out the supplements I take for immune support here and here)
Align with the seasons.
Winter is a time for slowing down and rejuvenating. As much as we often like to pretend otherwise, we are connected to nature and its rhythms and seasons as much as anything else on earth. To quote The Byrds "To everything there is a season", and our bodies need a bit more rest in winter. It's also important to realise that your body will also probably operate better on food that is in season - grounding root vegetables and less cooling fruit, for example. You might feel better subbing out your green juice or smoothie in the morning for a porridge or eggs or miso soup. Making a bone broth soup can be another way to support your body to stay warm and get lots of nutrients at this time of year. I use Sarah Wilson's (of 'I Quit Sugar') and it's amazing (here's a link if you're keen to try it). The food that supports you best should be easy to find - it's seasonal, local and therefore should be cheaper - which is always a bonus.
So there you have it. Have fun, do less, up your vitamin and mineral intake and eat what's on show at your local farmer's market.