Rebounding from the Winter Blahs: 5 Remedies for Restoring Your Wellness GrooveFeb 12, 2024
The new year buzz has come and gone, and if you're like a lot of people, you're wondering what happened to your fire, your joie de vivre, your ole get up and go.
Maybe you slid into a damp January. Maybe your lacinato kale has languished too long in the fridge. Or maybe you’re out there doing your thang but your willpower feels a little slippery. Achieving your healthstar dreams in winter can feel like climbing uphill on a windy day. You’re headed in the right direction, but feeling slower than usual and wondering why oh why it feels so damn hard.
Now for the good news, or at least, news. Turns out your winter blues are right on time and totally natural. With less sunlight per day, grayer skies, and colder temperatures, you really are running against the wind. Hormones also have the potential to impact energy levels. Serotonin—a hormone often linked to mood—and melatonin—a hormone responsible for regulating sleep—maintain the body's internal clock, which changes with the natural night-day cycle. The pineal gland in the brain produces melatonin in response to darkness, and in winter there’s, well, more darkness. Thus, your desire to sleep in and often is simply your body’s natural response to the season.
But sometimes these low-energy and down moods collaborate to produce a winter slump, which psychologists call Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. The Mayo Clinic describes SAD as a depressive episode tied to the change in seasons. You might…
- Feel constantly listless, sad, or down
- Have less interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Lack energy and feel sluggish
- Want to sleep more, crave carbs, overeat, gain weight, struggle with concentration
- Feel hopeless, worthless, or guilty.
And if you’re a woman experiencing the physical and emotional lows of perimenopause/menopause (can I get a witness?), the additional hormonal challenges in winter can make you feel a little bananas. Any or all of these symptoms are good reasons to seek out professional help. In the meantime, there are things you can do now to help you cope, even thrive, before the dawn of spring. Try one of these expert-recommended hacks and see what works for you. You may not feel as lively and unstoppable as you do mid-summer, but it is reasonable to want to feel more like yourself.
Spoiler: Some of these will feel like the opposite of what you actually want to do, but think of them as medicine for your spirit or a few handfuls of spinach in your berry smoothie, which by the way, is also a good idea.
Winter Wellness Remedies
The mantra—anything is better than nothing—applies here. But if you want to apply some science, researchers recommend just 10-15 minutes of vigorous exercise daily or 75 minutes per week to improve mood, energy, and well-being. If you feel like napping, this may seem kinda mean. But it can be any movement, from walking to swimming to dancing in your pajamas. Find something that gets your heart pumping and have fun. Also, there's growing evidence that weight training supports neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to adapt and develop over time—and reduces the risk of dementia.
If you're looking for a way to ease into winter exercise, here's a hot tip. Stephanie Mansour, a personal trainer and health writer, has developed a 31-day indoor walking workout if weather is non-compliant. Personally, I have my eye on one of those bungee workout classes. Have you seen these? My inner child keeps tugging at my sweater sleeve and asking why we’re not already signed up.
We’ve always needed each other, but when we’re low and feeling lower, we need to raise our hand. And there’s a good chance you’re not the only one that needs the connection.
Call a friend. Go on a walk. Meet for lunch. Go to yoga. Attend a religious service. See a movie. Grab a pastry. Get your nails did. Wherever you find support and solidarity, go there.
A note on hugging: The research on hugging keeps coming, so if you can include a few 20+ second hugs in your friend time you’re in for an oxytocin boost and natural stress reliever. Not a hugger? Pets and weighted blankets can provide similar effects but only in the hugging department. You’ll want actual humans to bond and talk to, in order to feel the difference from this remedy. Plus, an outing with a friend isn’t just one and done, but an ongoing way you nurture your relationship. And you probably don't need science to tell you just how valuable lifelong friendship is, but here's some facts just for fun.
High-quality friendships significantly improve our wellness, from insulating us from anxiety and depression to helping us live longer. Friendships can actually help us cope with stress. Research studies have found that hanging out with a supportive friend can lower our blood pressure compared to being with an ambivalent friend. Having a friend by your side can even help you see the world differently. One study, rivetingly entitled "Social Support & The Perception of Geographical Slant," discovered that having a friend by our side can even make hills seem less steep. In other words, your bestie's presence comes with optimistic super powers. Yes, please!
This may seem counter intuitive, given the winter weather has halted some of your favorite outdoor activities. But getting fresh air, light, and movement provides a holistic treatment known to boost mood and focus, along with helping support depleted vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is produced in the skin when exposed to UVB rays from the sun. It is crucial for calcium absorption and maintaining strong bones, but if you live North of 37th parallel (above central California) or if you have higher levels of melanin in your skin (darker skin tones), then outdoors in winter won’t provide enough support. Since vitamin D status can impact everything from inflammation to autoimmune disease risk to heart health and cognitive function, it’s recommended to add vitamin D rich foods and nutritional supplements to your diet.
Remember when you were a kid and loved playing outside? Yes, you were absorbing all the sunlight and fresh air, but you were also having fun. These days, it’s easy to get something like a fun high from experiencing awe, wonder, and delight. Science is just beginning to understand the role of these emotions and experiences in terms of well-being, but we don’t have to wait for more case studies. Simply put on your childlike glasses and go outside.
Once you’re outdoors, use your senses to make the most of your experience. What do you see, smell, hear, touch? And if it’s snowing, go on. Taste that snowflake.
If you’re in an urban setting, you can still find ways to incorporate outside and wonder. Remember those children’s books that noticed the buses, trucks, cars, cranes, taxis, and trains? Maybe you would like to count them. Or look for blue cars or red cars. This practice may even enhance your sense of awe when you do wander upon a winter flower. Bottom Line: It's normal to prefer a beach or waterfall. But any time you intentionally take stock of your surroundings, you will be rewarded with a greater sense of presence and grounded-ness.
Winter is a time that we naturally crave richer foods, and there’s science to support these urges. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re wanting more grilled cheese and less salad. And...if you find yourself reaching for the Doritos and ice cream, it’s worth knowing that sugary, processed foods can worsen anxiety, mood, and ability to concentrate even in healthy individuals.
The good news is that many delicious plant foods, rich in vitamins and antioxidants, can support well-being in winter and help you have more bliss than blahs. Rather than focusing on ‘eating your greens,’ wellness experts encourage us to ‘eat the rainbow.’ It’s well-known that brightly-colored foods, from mango to kale to blueberries, contain high levels of phytonutrients and fiber, while being low in calories. But also consider how the feast for the eyes may benefit your sense of optimism and possibility. In winter, it’s much harder to grow a home garden or browse the farmer’s market. But by focusing on a plate of colorful, vibrant plant foods, you’re nourishing your body from the outside in.
Color psychology is the study of how colors affect mood and well-being. It’s often considered in terms of your environment but imagine how a multi-colored fruit basket or refrigerator salad bar with prepped green lettuces, red peppers, purple cabbage shreds, blueberries, black beans, yellow pineapple, or earthy mushrooms might inspire your pallet and feed your soul. Or what about overnight carrot cake oats, where you can ‘see’ your orange carrots, apple shreds, coconut, and cinnamon through a clear mason jar?
A note on tableware and supplies: During the lockdown, I ordered multi-colored, patterned plates in an effort to feed my senses. Now each time I open the cabinet, the red, orange, blue, yellow, and green plates shine some brightness on dark days. I am also a big fan of clear mason jars and layered salads, berry chia pudding, and lots of variations of overnight oats. For me, a big part of the delight is seeing them in the refrigerator.
So maybe didn’t make it to the gym five times a week like you planned. Instead of doubling down, start your recalibration by thanking yourself for January. This very morning I petted my little belly (my distress monster likes ice cream and cookies and the Portland 2024 ice storm had me feeling especially “other”) and said thank you, there’s not a thing wrong with you. Because—reminder—it is not helpful to berate your beautiful body. And yes, even when your clothes don’t fit. We are tasked with loving ourselves often and always, and some days are harder than others, but you deserve you in your corner.
For me, I am thanking my soft belly while also working on getting intentional with fiber, protein, and water—all things I know will help me feel better. And this approach is one of my favorite grownass woman hacks. No diets, deprivation, or double doses of self-control, thank you very much. I am going to love myself by giving myself more of what I need, not less. And who knows? Maybe I’ll still eat some ice cream now and then. But in light of loving myself well, I plan to first start with an apple.
Questions about what, how much, and when to eat seem to ever evolve, especially for women as they age. As you can tell, I prefer the holistic approach, and enjoy following nutrition experts who embrace graceful, healthful eating habits. And in the 2024 season of the Naked Librarian podcast, I will be interviewing wellness practitioners on subjects ranging from food and sexual health, to mindful eating, to nutrition and movement for the hormonally challenged. If you want to know when a new episode drops, make sure you're all signed up for the Naked News.
Also, if you need some help with loving and accepting yourself right where you're at, check out Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. Her beautiful teachings will inspire a healing journey that will benefit you far beyond this season.
I hope these winter wellness remedies feel like a nice warm cup of spicy chai for your spirit. Of course, there will be some that work and others that don’t, but have fun with it. And if you’re looking for a little extra credit, mama said a new pair of stylish winter boots never hurt anyone.